IT'S a drizzly day in Leigh and low-level grey cloud is providing a roof over the town centre.

More extreme weather on the other side of the world has Nathan Foy’s attention, though.

Storms are scheduled to hit Mozambique in the next 48 hours and he’s keeping a close eye on latest off-shore developments.

This is no passing interest for the 24-year-old. The weather and storm tracking service he provides can be a matter of life and death for some subscribers.

Built from scratch and orchestrated from his borough home, Force Thirteen’s videos have attracted millions of views since 2012. 

Its growing number of followers includes humanitarian aid workers serving remote locations and those relying on updates to judge the safest time to flee areas about to be hit by cyclones or hurricanes.

From humble beginnings, Nathan’s success in building the YouTube channel has therefore brought with it a growing sense of responsibility. 

“I’ve got used to it, because it’s my comfort zone,” he tells the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“It’s something I’ve been done for seven years now. There’s plenty of examples of us (covering a storm) before the international media pick up on it.

“Are we confident in our abilities? Yes, absolutely.”

Nathan has assembled an international team of volunteers – mostly in the United States – who work together remotely over the internet.

During large-scale storms they provide live coverage and updates, which Nathan often presents from a studio he has set up in his Leigh home.

The story of Force Thirteen’s success is made no less remarkable because of the back-story of the young man behind it. 

Nathan is an active figure in campaigns to raise awareness of autism – including Wigan Council’s Autism Friends project.

He also speaks candidly about his own mental health and is described by town hall bosses as an ‘inspiration’ to his peers.

“Force Thirteen is my head, autism is my heart,” he tells the LDRS.

Thanks in part to Force Thirteen’s success, he now finds it easier to assert himself and can offer advice on how others on the autism spectrum can express themselves.

“With the Autism Friends project we have regular meetings about how to make the borough more autism friendly – whether that’s through having ‘Autism Hours’ shopping at supermarkets (where lights are dimmed and music turned down) or cinema screenings.”

Progress is needed in how people use language to do with mental health, as it can often be unintentionally harmful, he says.

“My background is I left school at 14, I had depression; I wasn’t fitting in with classmates and struggled with the regimes that school had,” he explains.

Nathan has previously spoken about the support he received from the Greater Manchester Autistic Society and how that inspired him, in turn, to then become a volunteer.

“I still get depressed sometimes, but for different reasons than when I was younger.

“But having been home-schooled for a while, I have a perspective that a lot of young people don’t have. It has helped me think a lot more from the outside looking in.”

His interest in weather systems started at an early age but has evolved into the highly technical service his team now provides.

The team uses publicly available environmental data – such as ocean surface water temperatures – and historical trend patterns to help predict where and when extreme weather formations may occur. 

“I’m a very analytical person and we make pretty decent predictions about what is going to happen each year,” he says.

“There was one instance, with Hurricane Matthew,  we got (predicted) that one in May (2016), and it happened in the October. 

“My actual prediction was that there would be a high end category four or higher storm in October in the Caribbean and that’s what it was. 

“Perhaps it was a bit of a fluke, but we got it.”

Nathan has also developed the music and graphics for the channel’s coverage, in addition to his presenting duties.

“For Hurricane Matthew, we were streaming for 104 hours and I spoke for 52 of them.

“For the cyclone that hit southern Africa (earlier this year) we had a lot of interest from humanitarian aid workers because we were the only ones providing proper updates because of the remoteness of the region.”

Although Force Thirteen is run on a volunteer basis, Nathan is open to ideas to make it commercially viable in the future.

It has come a long way from its launch as a hobby project in 2012. 

“It’s easy to lose sight of our achievements, because we’re so busy,” he says. 

“The viewership has outgrown anything that I thought it would. Initially it was just me experimenting.”

As part of his openness to talk about his autism and mental health, Nathan last year wrote and produced a documentary about his life. 

He hopes it can help others to open up. 

“There’s a lot of places and people’s own stories that are similar (to mine) and the same messages can be applied to other stories, too.

“People maybe need a bit of help in saying how they feel and being a bit more honest about things, when things aren’t going so well.”

And his perseverance has caught the eye of town hall bosses.

“I feel very proud of Nathan and his many achievements,” says Coun Jenny Bullen, lead member for children services.

“We want all young people in the borough to become confident, resilient individuals and Nathan is an excellent example of this.

“His autism and anxiety mean that he has had to work extra hard to achieve some of his goals and I believe he is an inspiration to others.”