Cellular 2-methylisoborneol (MIB) yield of cyanobacteria varies under different conditions according to culture studies and field investigations, the causal mechanism remains unclear and results in ineffective MIB prediction. Through an intensive field survey during an MIB episode produced by Pseudanabaena cinerea in QCS reservoir, we demonstrated that MIB synthesis (mic) gene abundance (DNA) and expression (RNA) might be useful as parameters for early warning of MIB production. It was found that the abundance of mic DNA and RNA peaked ahead of MIB concentrations by 10 and 7 days, respectively. In addition, the RNA abundance (R^2^ = 0.45, p < 0.01) showed a slightly higher correlation with MIB compared to DNA abundance (R^2^ = 0.37, p < 0.01), suggesting that the conditions for the growth of Pseudanabaena cinerea might be slightly different from those for mic gene expression, which was verified by a culture experiment. The highest cell growth was obtained under 36 μmol photons m^-2^ s^-1^, while the highest cellular MIB yield and mic gene expression level were obtained under 85 μmol photons m^-2^ s^-1^. Our results clearly supported that light intensity was the virtual regulator governing the mic gene expression within the controlled culture experiment and the actual MIB episode in the reservoir. Besides these results, we developed an early warning model using mic gene abundance as an indicator of MIB episodes, which was verified in two other reservoirs. Our findings highlight the effect of light intensity on mic gene expression and MIB synthesis and provide an early warning tool targeting MIB episode prediction, which therefore should be of importance for source water authorities.