Jen Walton is a storm chaser, photographer and founder of the Girls Who Chase initiative, which inspires, empowers, and equips girls and women to pursue storms, the sciences, and their passions. Jen joins the Second Act Success Podcast to discuss how she started storm chasing in 2018 after realizing she had chosen self-limitation over pursuing a very real passion. She left her job working in Environmental Communications to take on storm chasing and developing Girls Who Chase full time. Jen is a self-taught forecaster and chaser and is committed to bringing her learnings to empower and inspire others to pursue their own joys of the sky. Her work has since been featured in The Washington Post and on NBC, Good Morning America & The Today Show.
She holds a B.A. in Environmental Communication and an M.S. in Technical Journalism & Communication, and spent the first 17 years of her career working with scientists, engineers, urban planners and other technical experts to craft communication strategies for effective climate change and science communication. She brought her deep experience as a communications expert – and her understanding of what it was like working in highly technical fields as a woman – to create the GWC concept and find new ways to address systemic gender disparity issues and enact culture change. Listen to Jen’s full story on the Second Act Success Podcast.
SHOW NOTES FOR THIS EPISODE:
CONNECT with Jen Walton:
Jen, storm chaser & photographer:
Girls Who Chase:
0:00 – Intro
02:13 – Childhood and College
03:12 – First to graduate with a combined Environmental Communication degree at UNC Chapel Hill
03:38 – Growing up scared of severe weather and growing to love it
04:30 – Career in environmental communications
05:43 – First job working for a non-profit
06:24 – Working for different corporations, but realizing she wasn’t enjoying it. Something was missing in her life
07:00 – Developing an interest in severe weather in Boulder, Colorado and teaching herself to read radar
08:19 – Being diagnosed with a chronic illness and realizing she needed a change to find something that fulfilled her
08:55 – Taking a storm chasing tour and falling in love with it
11:06 – Chasing her first storm on her own
12:29 – Losing her full-time job, and taking this as an opportunity to start Girls Who Chase
15:58 – Why she started Girls Who Chase, it was out of frustration.
17:32 – Prejudices against women storm chasers in society
18:05 – Working mostly with men while storm chasing.
20:05 – Men storm chasers were always supportive, but culture and media don’t portray women like they do men.
20:29 – Twister the movie and it’s portrayal of the main character Jo played by Helen Hunt.
21:23 – Discovery Channel show Storm Chasers with Reed Timmer
23:26 – Educating women and young girls through Girls Who Chase educational programs
24:54 – Learning about her purpose from working in environmental communications and climate change to her initiative with Girls Who Chase. It’s about purpose and trying to inspire.
26:54 – Girls Who Chase Podcast
29:00 – Her website aggregates content from storm chasers to educate women
30:27 – Educating children in grades K – 12
31:10 – Making money as a storm chaser
32:20 – Working on speaking at conferences and at schools to get the word out
33:53 – Looking for sponsors to help fund Girls Who Chase
36:24 – Getting PR on the Today Show and other outlets helps spread the word
37:10 – What do storm chasers do?
39:45 – Goal of a storm chaser is photos, videos, and info to help the National Weather Service
41:31 – The dangerous side of storm chasing
44:07 – Were you a fan of the movie Twister? Storm chasers really do quote the movie.
45:03 – What percentage of storm chasers are female today?
45:51 – Jen’s journey
48:25 – Advice on changing careers and trying something new
50:01 – Next chapter for Jen
51:02 – Connect with Jen Walton
51:51 – Shannon’s takeaways
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Second Act Success Podcast
Season 1 -Episode #36 - Meet the storm chasing entrepreneur who founded Girls Who Chase
Guest: Jen Walton
Transcription (*created by Descript and may not be perfectly accurate)
[00:00:00] Jen Walton: The day that I went out and saw my first tornado, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that that storm was gonna produce a tornado. Believing that what was in front of me was possibly gonna be one of the best moments of my life made that chase , the life altering day that it was for me. I don't look ahead and think, Okay, in a year, Girls Who Chase needs to be one specific thing or another. I just believe that what I'm doing matters if it makes a difference in one person's life, then that's enough for me.
[00:00:33] Shannon: Are you at a crossroads in your career or in life? Well, don't worry because life's next chapter is waiting. This is the Second Act Success Podcast. I am your host Shannon Russell.
I'm a television producer, turned boy mom, turned business owner, podcaster, and career coach. If you are looking to start a new career or begin a fresh [00:01:00] chapter in life, then get ready to be inspired with stories of women who have done just that. We will share advice and offer steps you can take to help figure out what your true calling in life really is.
It is time to shine. So let's turn the page and get started.
Welcome to Second Act Success.
[00:01:21] Shannon Russell: Today. I am here with the founder of Girls Who Chase Jen Walton. Jen worked for years in the field of environmental communications. She loved science, but she knew something was missing in her day to day. Her fascination with severe weather led her to become a storm chaser. Jen is now spreading the word. That girls can chase too. If you were a fan of the movie Twister back in the day, then you will love this conversation I had with Jen Walton.
Hi Jen, welcome to Second Act Success.
[00:01:54] Jen Walton: Thank you so much for having me. What a great topic to be talking about.
[00:01:58] Shannon Russell: Well, and I'm excited to hear [00:02:00] your story. I first discovered you on a segment on the Today Show and I said, Oh, I have to talk to her. Can you just tell me kind of where your journey began in, in the real world, like out of college maybe.
[00:02:13] Jen Walton: Yeah, for sure. I have always been kind of an outdoorsy conservation oriented person and as I was deciding what I wanted to do career wise and work wise, it seemed to make sense to go into the sciences and focus in environment or environmental conservation. What I don't think I accounted for in my decision making was that lab work and deep technical work really wasn't my jam. I picked up a bachelor's in environmental science, but then my journalist father, kind of at the end of my bachelor's degree suggested I consider a minor in public relations. It's hilarious to think about now because I struggled the whole way through college, like [00:03:00] tutors, just endless studying. Struggle, struggle. And then, You know, stepped into news writing 1 0 1 and aced it without even trying. And it was very clear where I was meant to be. I was actually the first graduate from UNC Chapel Hill with a combined degree in environmental communication. That field did not exist. Combining those things weren't a thing yet. Climate change was not on anyone's horizon. Um, and I would say it was only shortly after that, that the word sustainability became more commonly used.
So that was really kind of where the journey started for me. The love of severe weather, I feel like, has always been with me. hilariously, however, when I was little, little, I was just petrified of weather and if there was a lightning storm at night, I would end up in my parents' bedroom. And it's funny because I share that story with a lot of other storm chasers. There's some transition that occurs where [00:04:00] people at some point either decide continue to be terrified of severe weather, or instead they're just fascinated by it and they wanna learn more and be a part of it. And I guess the decision for me was I'm gonna just sit and watch The Weather Channel 24 7 so I can get my fix
[00:04:18] Shannon Russell: And get over that fear, right?
[00:04:20] Jen Walton: Yeah, it was either that or just, you know, my love of understanding how things worked. I think that's really where the scientific piece came from. I, started my career and spent, uh, years and years inside of environmental organizations, kind of starting with more sustainability oriented and then moving into the natural sciences later, um, along the way, picked up a masters in technical journalism, which was really focused around science and environmental communication again. Then really got into, I would say, more of the communication strategy and management side. I, grew in my career and got more senior. and really at [00:05:00] that point was focused on climate change and communicating the science of climate change. In a time where not everyone was in agreement that that even was an issue or where it was coming from or how we addressed it. And working with scientists to help them tell their story in a way that folks could relate to and understand. And that felt very mission centric to me and kind of checked all of my boxes of challenging myself working in an area that I, I was good at and could contribute to. And, feeling as though I was making a difference.
[00:05:34] Shannon Russell: So you were talking with scientists and then communicating that to someone like me outside of science world. Is that basically it
[00:05:43] Jen Walton: My first couple jobs were nonprofit. I would say initially it was a lot of project management. Writing, there's a lot of, you know, it, it's storytelling. Scientists think that what they do is big news,
[00:05:58] Shannon Russell: Mm-hmm.
[00:05:59] Jen Walton: and [00:06:00] sometimes it is, and sometimes it's not. And , it's identifying within all of that maybe really where the story is and what's ready for public consumption and what maybe needs some work. It's finding different ways to share information that we think is important. So I worked for a variety of different types of organizations. At some point I started to notice that I was less feeling like I was making a difference and more, pushing paper and dealing with bad behavior, which, I think just kind of comes with the territory when you become more senior. I was simultaneously observing that while also noting that I wasn't connected to my extracurricular activities as well. Something was missing. And I was getting more and more, unsettled and feeling disconnected just from everything that I was doing.
[00:06:57] Shannon Russell: What do you think it was that you were missing?[00:07:00]
[00:07:00] Jen Walton: I was a degree separated from. A lot of the folks who were doing severe weather research in the Boulder area and kept kind of name dropping and networking my way into those folks and trying to get them to take me storm chasing and I would get promise that somebody would take me and it never panned out. I would sit on my patio and watch storms come through and get excited. And then at some point somebody taught me how to read radar and I found myself, insulting people at social events by sitting and staring at radar Like I actually had one friend sort of break up with me because I spent too much time looking at radar at her birthday, lunch,
[00:07:42] Shannon Russell: That was more exciting than the conversation.
[00:07:44] Jen Walton: I could not stop. And you know, some part of me was kind of observing this from the outside going, Okay, this is like not normal and maybe also not healthy, but definitely not normal. And like, what is the takeaway here? You know? At this point, I was [00:08:00] well past my mid thirties. I have to say that by that point we all probably have a conversation with ourselves about have I made the right choices? I'm approaching my forties and. We don't have forever. So am I really putting my time and attention where it belongs?
Also simultaneously had been diagnosed with a chronic disease, type one diabetes as an adult, which is actually quite unusual to be diagnosed as an adult, um, where you're pancreas stops producing insulin. So there was a lot of kind of, life is getting shorter, messages being thrown at me. And I started to ask a lot more questions and do some digging.
[00:08:43] Shannon Russell: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Seems like everything came to a head and so how did you finally kind of make the transition away from managing and paper pushing to storm chasing?
[00:08:55] Jen Walton: I Happened to be scrolling Facebook in [00:09:00] 2018 and saw a discount for a storm chasing tour, which I didn't know existed. and caught myself, for the first time ever saying, Well, I can't do that. And then I was kind of like, Why can't I, why am I saying this? Where is this coming from and have I been saying this for a really long time and is that really true that I, I can't. I'm privileged to have been able to do this because storm chasing tours are not cheap. Signed myself up and went, and I had an inkling at this point that that was the, the itch was severe weather. having now been saying for 20 years, you know, I would love to go chasing. I wish somebody would take me. Having been an avid consumer of. All of the reality shows, had seen Twister a million times, all of that kind of stuff. I just thought I was just barely smart enough to know that I shouldn't just drive myself out to a severe storm without a clue. And I, I didn't know how to get started. Where do you find the [00:10:00] information to learn how to chase? What does that even mean? So I went out on this tour and 2018 was a relatively quiet weather year kind of like this year actually, 2022. And I didn't see much, but I asked questions for seven days straight , and God bless the patient and willing tour guides who kind of put up with me like walking in circles around them going, Why are we here? Why'd you do that? Why'd you make that decision? I just remember one day we were sitting at a gas station and a storm formed over the gas station and I was like, How did you know? This was gonna happen, we don't even need to move, We're in exactly the right spot. And they were wonderful and the rest of the guests were kind of there, I think for the adrenaline rush. Um, I was like the, the nerdy one. And I remember at some point turning around, at a restaurant and all four of them were staring at their phones at radar and I was like, My people, I have found my people [00:11:00] finally someone who wants to stare at radar with me instead
[00:11:04] Shannon Russell: And not talk. Yeah.
[00:11:06] Jen Walton: instead of being insulted by me doing it, by redoing it by myself. So I got back from the tour and about two weeks later was working from home , just north of Denver on the front range in Colorado and saw Storm come out of the foothills and at that point, learned just enough to be dangerous. And I, I mean that every pun intended. Um, and I, I looked at the shape of it and the way it was moving, and I said that that thing's gonna do it like it's gonna put down a tornado and I'm going after it. I'm lucky enough to live somewhere where that's actually possible.
I was in such a rush to get out of my house that I was still wearing my pajamas and, went after it and made every kind of mistake in the world, got stuck in traffic and was on the wrong side of the storm and crested a hill. And in front of me was my first tornado in 2018 in Colorado. About 45 minutes from my house. The feeling I had in that moment, um, and I just [00:12:00] remember standing outside my car, jumping up and down and kind of shouting in my pajamas. That was it. I had figured it out. I had found my, my joy, like whatever that core was. And said, That's it. I'm gonna do whatever I need to, to learn how to forecast and to integrate this into my life and, make this work. Storms don't just happen on the weekends, in the evenings, right. So it wasn't necessarily fully conducive, but I made it work for a while. and then lost my full-time job in March, 2020, unrelated to Covid. It was actually about a week before Covid hit and had already been thinking it was probably time to leave full-time, cuz I'd been full-time about 17 years. I knew I could not figure out what the next step was until I had some mental space. It sucks everything out of you when you work hours like that. And, communications jobs to me are a lot of strategy [00:13:00] and kind of thinking five steps ahead. And so it didn't leave time for me to figure out what was right for me. So I thought this is a gift, here's my universal kick in the rear. It's time to figure out what the next step is. So, because of what happened with Covid, I essentially had, six months of time to figure it out.
[00:13:23] Shannon Russell: Nothing but time. Yeah.
[00:13:24] Jen Walton: At that point I had been studying forecasting on the weekends for two years. I thought if I wanna do this, I'm gonna do it. There are free resources out there. They're not real obvious to anyone who isn't part of the chasing community. So I had been in the process of discovering those and then consuming them and I have like a little nerdy chasing notebook where I have all my notes about forecasting and all the different models and resources and all that type of thing. So I dug in and kind of finished that up and then spent 2020, I mean, blessedly, chasing is a solitary [00:14:00] activity, so I was able to just roll out in my car and. Do whatever I wanted without it really being an issue. Um, even with everything shut down the way it was and started to turn my energy and attention to building my own consulting business.
[00:14:13] Shannon Russell: Okay, so you're unemployed, but you've discovered this new passion. So how did you go about turning this into a business that let you do what you loved while still being able to support yourself?
[00:14:24] Jen Walton: my thought was that the consulting would keep me stable and pay the bills and then I could begin to build whatever it was gonna become. That was my storm chasing and ultimately landscape photography, cuz that was the other thing I knew nothing about, that I had to learn relatively quickly. And it is not as easy as picking up a camera and, shooting at something. Um, so
[00:14:51] Shannon Russell: Well especially at storms are coming, at you from every . direction imagine
[00:14:53] Jen Walton: lot going on. And you don't get a lot of practice time because quickly. You don't necessarily get [00:15:00] to choose your foreground. It could be really ugly. Right. You know, doing all of that at once takes practice and you only get so many storms a year so it takes a while to get to a point where it feels natural. And it was a lot of just kind of running around and cursing under my breath and making mistakes. And, you know, I still do that. I mean, I, I think both weather and photography are a permanent learning curve. You just never stop learning and there's so much we don't know about weather, that we're still learning
[00:15:33] Shannon: Hey, it's Shannon. Think you're ready to start a second act. I just wanted to pop in real quick and let you know about a special freebie that's now available on my website. It's my Second Act Blueprint with five questions that you should ask yourself before you make this massive decision. To check it out, go to secondactsuccess.co and download the Second Act Blueprint today. Now it's back to the episode.
[00:15:57] Shannon Russell: okay. So Girls Who Chase is born. [00:16:00] But how did you go from chasing storms and shooting photography to creating this awesome community
[00:16:08] Jen Walton: girls who Chase, arose out of, really frustration actually more than anything. I mean, storm chasing is, is a male dominated field, much like the sciences, still unfortunately. I engaged with the chase community on social media and figured out who was who and where the great resources were and who I could learn from and who would answer my questions. And everybody was wonderfully welcoming and happy to help. I think everyone kind of learns from each other in a lot of ways. Like somebody will post something and say, What do you think? And then other people will weigh in and, and I made chasing friends in that process. But because it was a male dominated field, it was mostly men who were my chasing friends because that, that's who was here. Um, and I think the process of telling [00:17:00] myself that chasing wasn't for me and why I made the decision that I couldn't do that was some combination of. Feeling like I needed to be a degree meteorologist. Um, you had to be an expert in severe weather, and that I hadn't seen anyone who looked like me chasing. And really that was the big one. I think it's very subconscious it's culturally embedded. and it's a decision that we as women, make that nobody says, You can't do that because you're a woman. It's just sort of known. You know? So all of those reality shows that I had been consuming were mostly men. And the women on the shows were kind of token somebody's girlfriend or
[00:17:48] Shannon Russell: Along for the ride.
[00:17:49] Jen Walton: they were along for the ride. They were not portrayed as being part of the decision making process or as, as equals.
[00:17:57] Shannon Russell: When you met these chase friends, and they [00:18:00] were mostly men, were they accepting of you? How were you treated when you were out chasing with them?
[00:18:05] Jen Walton: Yes, they were. I mean, I've been wonderfully lucky in that I've not run across purposeful exclusion . I mean, if anything, it's been the opposite, actually. Like they've gone, they've recognized the issue and gone out of their way. And the reason Girls who Chase exists is. I would go through these phases where something would happen and I would get upset and one of them would say, You're the one. Do something, and I would say, Well, I'm too new. But it became very clear after a while, both because of my background, and the experiences that I was having, and the fact that nobody had done that yet, that I was the one. And that was, that was kind of where it came from.
It was things like, I, would be out chasing with a male chase partner and both of us would capture very similar content, and. He would get kind of patted on the back and told how awesome he was just [00:19:00] for being there. And then there would be a line out the door of people wanting to buy his content. And I would get silence, total silence. And
we both had started chasing at the same time. So it's not like he'd been around 10 more years and just had built the community. And some of it can certainly be chopped up to my stuff just wasn't that great. However, if you average it over time, there was an issue. And, um, and then I started to realize that, okay, at this point I, there are a lot of female chasers out there. They're pretty dang good at what they do. Why wasn't I seeing them? Why weren't they on those shows? And why are we still not seeing them and and why are they kind of invisible so I'm looking at all of these different patterns. I'm looking at what's happening in my own experience. I'm talking to other female chasers about their experiences. And there's clearly an issue, like, and it wasn't the same one again as [00:20:00] what was happening in the sciences. And like you asked, they were wonderfully welcoming. I never felt like I was treated as less then or unequal in any way. I found everyone to be incredibly supportive of each other. And so I thought, why is this happening, Right? If it's not the chasers who are causing it. And the answer I've come up with, is it's a, a cycle of media and culture. That have perpetuated this. If you look back, right, the only female chasing role model we've had is Jo from the movie Twister.
[00:20:37] Shannon Russell: Yes.
[00:20:37] Jen Walton: that movie is 26 years old. How sad is that? And she's not real. So else and all of the media that has been produced are men. And so they have inadvertently, I think, set cultural expectation for who a chaser is. And then of course, media want to meet cultural [00:21:00] needs and expectations. So they go right back to what they know and what they think people want. And here we are locked in this cycle that nobody actually is fully conscious of, is just continuing. I mean, that's how like simplistic and yet, um, subversive. it is, if that makes sense. It really is that simple.
You may not get the media type personality. Such as someone like Reed Timmer from a woman Reed is, the star of the Discovery channel show storm chasers and drives into tornadoes and shouts at the top of his lungs. And that's just who he is. And media love that, right? And they love people who drive into hail storms and blow out their windows and do things that, Right. They're gonna like cover the most attention getting stuff. And so those of us who are sort of safely and non dramatically capturing weather are [00:22:00] just less media worthy from media's perspective. You know? So I thought, okay, I'm a little sick of this and I'm also sick of complaining about it and, I'll start a platform. Where we can boost content for female chasers because that doesn't exist. Instagram seems like the best option because it's an aggregator of content, right? So if we wanna make the case that, you have these amazing content producers out there, it'd be great to be able to go somewhere and see it all in one place. So I started the Instagram platform and pretty much from that moment forward, Girls Who Chase has taken on a life of its own. There was that energy was. And I think we were able to harness it through the development of Girls who Chase and, it's been an odd and empowering and terrifying and exciting experience kind [00:23:00] of riding along with it ever since. July, 2021 was when I launched the Instagram. We formally launched in January, 2022. And yeah, we were on the Today Show. So like it, it was literally six months.
[00:23:18] Shannon Russell: Wow.
[00:23:19] Jen Walton: That's how crazy this has been.
[00:23:21] Shannon Russell: It's just blown up. So, So is it you, Are you the sole founder of Girls Who Chase?
[00:23:26] Jen Walton: Yeah. I've had several partners, wonderful partners along the way who've stepped in at different times, but I'm, I'm the one behind all of it.
[00:23:36] Shannon Russell: And now I was just on your site earlier. There's so much to it. So you start with just posting different things on Instagram now, on your website there's education, there's your podcast. There's so many elements to it, which all pretty much aims towards educating women, educating girls, educating people about this, right? And kind of, trying to work towards getting women [00:24:00] in this field, or at least more aware of it.
[00:24:03] Jen Walton: Yeah. I, I mean, I would say there's kind of two primary pillars. Because I'm a strategist, You know, as soon as I realized this was going somewhere, I kind of took a step back and said, Okay, where do we really wanna focus our attention and energy? Because there's a lot of different ways we could take this. The development of the platform and then, where we're focusing our energy and its purpose, I think parallel to my personal journey for a lot of reasons. The first half of it is empowerment. So it's not even really about STEM per se, it's about reflecting the process that I went through in realizing that I was actually self-limiting and telling myself I couldn't do the very thing that it turns out is what I should have been doing for forever.
[00:24:54] Shannon Russell: Right.
[00:24:56] Jen Walton: That's a huge shift. What came [00:25:00] after that was reflective of what happens when somebody aligns themselves with their purpose. I always believed in climate change communication. I still do, and I still do it. but it wasn't what I was born to do. And I always knew that, like, it always felt a little bit like I was pushing a boulder uphill. And I, I liked my work, but I didn't love my work and I knew it. There was a lot of, should I should be in a career, I should progress, I should become more senior. I should do this, this, and this. And, you know, you read, and I think all of the self-help and personal growth books, it should feel like flow. You should feel connected to purpose. And, I never felt that. And, since starting Chasing, but mostly since Girls who Chase came to be, it has instead felt like a boulder, running downhill with me running after it going, Wait a minute, , [00:26:00] Holy crap. I can't keep up. You know, I mean, it's just been such a different opposite experience in a lot of ways, and it's a ton of work. I mean, paying my bills while simultaneously basically running a startup, I mean, that's really what this is at the moment. And figuring out how to fund it and make it sustainable and, uh, I wouldn't necessarily recommend doing both of those things at the same time in the order they happen, but, I feel, again, like I've been given a gift, like finally I found, my thing where I feel very connected to, both the empowerment component and the more science component. It's about storm chasing and obviously it's about science and forecasting and weather and stem, but it, it's at its core in inspiration and empowerment platform.
And, and that's where a lot of the, the podcasting and, the [00:27:00] messaging stems from pun intended, um, is you are capable. And it doesn't have to be storm chasing. It could be knitting, whatever it is that. Is, is an itch that you're not able to scratch that maybe you haven't even figured it out yet. It's worth the trouble to push into it and to read those little gut signs that you might get over time that say, don't stop here. Don't settle. So that's, that's the energy behind it. , I thought, well, okay, if we're not getting media coverage, we're gonna create our own, and that, was the point of the podcast, was we've got all these people with amazing stories to tell about how they got to where they were, that I feel like so many girls and women could relate to, but nobody's. Asking those questions. Nobody's interviewing them, nobody's sharing those stories. There are plenty of, of weather and science and even [00:28:00] chasing podcasts out there and it's not that they're not talking to female chasers, but if you look at the percent coverage, it's like 10%, and there are tons of female chasers out there and some of them really have quite the story to tell. And so I thought, well, okay, we'll do this next , we'll start producing media. I started asking questions of our audience, what would you like to know? What do you think is important to cover? I kept getting back almost a hundred percent consistency. I just wanna know how to get started. I would love to have been storm chasing 15 years ago, and I don't wanna go get a degree in meteorology, you know, is that really necessary? And I, I thought back to, before I had gone on the Chase tour and I thought I didn't know how to get started either. And maybe there's all kinds of women out there who would be doing this if only we removed this one barrier. So that was actually, that's [00:29:00] why, we've aggregated resources on our website that are education specific. We're looking at a virtual training event for 2023 in the spring. You wake up one morning and you decide you're a storm chaser, you don't get delivered storm chasing 1 0 1. Right. You have to go figure it out. So how do we deliver storm chasing 1 0 1?
[00:29:21] Shannon Russell: in a fun
[00:29:22] Jen Walton: yeah. Right. With the, with the very people who are already producing these resources we're just taking it and putting it all in one place and making it accessible. So for me, the word accessibility is critically important. It sounds very basic, but at the same time it doesn't exist.
[00:29:39] Shannon Russell: Well Jen you were pulling it all together yourself by researching and probably on YouTube and radar. Yeah. So have cut that time down if you were there for yourself in the day.
[00:29:50] Jen Walton: oh my God. Years, five years. And, and again, we're taking the very people who already did it and. Making them accessible, putting a list together. [00:30:00] Well, produced, easily broken down. You know, they take these very technical concepts and make them accessible, which plays into that science communication background that I have where all I did was say to folks, I don't understand anything you just said, how about we find a different way to say this? That's really all this is. So if you go to the website, obviously you can go listen to the podcast. Some of those are educational as well.
We're also doing that for K12 as well. That's the girls component. Again, it's not that people aren't doing weather education, severe weather awareness stuff in classrooms, it's that it's women doing So if I, as a 10 year old had had someone from girls who chase come in and talk to my classroom about tornadoes, my life might be very different than it is right now. It's like doing it, but being female
[00:30:57] Shannon Russell: Yes,
[00:30:58] Jen Walton: it's such small [00:31:00] tweaks,
[00:31:00] Shannon Russell: it is. And just being able to bring those ideas to kids who think, Oh, that's not something that someone does. Well, let's show that yes it is.
[00:31:08] Jen Walton: Guess what?
[00:31:08] Shannon Russell: is. I do it. You, you know? how can you make money as a storm chaser? Is that something that a little girl can want to do and be her sustainability when she's older?
[00:31:21] Jen Walton: The short answer is no. I mean, it depends on make money. If you really like living in somebody's basement and you know, eating ramen, maybe, and I'm being a little bit disrespectful because there are definitely folks who have figured it out. Storm chasing tours is certainly one way. Content production is another, but most of us have jobs on the side or are broke but you can certainly make a career in weather. In forecasting and meteorology, I mean the National Weather Service, right? You could take that route. You could go into broadcast meteorology, which is a huge and growing [00:32:00] field. And in fact, I would say part of the reason. Girls Who Chase has been all over the media. The way it has is because of female broadcast meteorologists who've been incredibly supportive of us. There's a lot of different avenues that could be pursued, and that's again, part of why I think the podcast is important in telling that story.
[00:32:21] Shannon Russell: Have you been, asked to speak about this at different conferences or are you going into schools and kind of bringing this to the younger generations?
[00:32:30] Jen Walton: We're working on it. I mean, I think in my perfect world, I would love to manifest. Little bit of a speaking series. I think this notion of limiting ourselves and getting in our own way is a, is a big one. I have found personally that people who speak from experience resonate more strongly with me than someone who's telling you, should find a way to not limit yourself. Whereas if, if someone got up there [00:33:00] in a TED Talk or something and said, I actually went through the process of realizing that I had made not the right decisions for myself for an extended period of time and was missing out on. Being aligned with myself, what a difference, like how I would receive that differently. So that's definitely something I'm looking at. There actually is a storm chasing conference Chaser Summit, of talking to the folks who run that and figuring out how we can partner on our various kinds of events. I'm also speaking with, the American Meteorological Society who. Brands, all of the broadcast meteorologists and folks who deliver weather information all the time has a massive conference every year. And it just so happens to be a Denver in 2023. How convenient. Like, like everything else? It's so, it's
[00:33:52] Shannon Russell: Meant to
[00:33:53] Jen Walton: Because of the interest we've gotten from broadcast meteorologists it's very clear to me that there's a [00:34:00] bigger difference we could be making as an entity. And I am not sure where the academic world stops and Girls Who Chase starts. There's a gap in there. You know, if you're a woman in science, you're supported by the American Meteorological Society in some ways. But the outsized interest we've gotten tells me there's a lot of women out there who are underserved and don't feel supported and don't have a community. Because of my sort of semi academia background, I'm looking at this and thinking, what is our role? How can we support these folks in different ways? And then the other is, there's a female chaser who for years now has been doing severe weather education in Texas and is going gangbusters and is like constantly getting requests and et cetera. Um, and what I'd like to be able to do is scale that, nationally if possible.[00:35:00] And that is going to require some kind of sponsor. We can't do all of this for free. So that's where, right now my focus has shifted from, program creation to how do we make this sustainable? Looking for partners, looking for sponsors, finding different ways to fund ourselves. What I don't want is to turn around to the very people we're meant to benefit and ask them to pay for us.
[00:35:28] Shannon Russell: can see that. Yeah. It's gonna be interesting to see how you get there because there is so much need. My entrepreneur brain is going in all directions of what you can do. So I think you're on the right path and it's just like the world is your, your limit. You know? It's just gonna be interesting to see which direction you choose.
[00:35:46] Jen Walton: Yeah. And I think this is where I'm starting to get pushed out of my comfort zone is the entrepreneurial side. How do you fund this? How do you stop working 18 hour days forever and find either [00:36:00] make this your job, which I think it has the potential to be, if I can do this
[00:36:05] Shannon Russell: Oh.
[00:36:06] Jen Walton: Or, bring in help, expert help. And all of the answers to that involve funding,
[00:36:12] Shannon Russell: They do. I think those conferences in 2023 are gonna be amazing for you, at least as far as networking, getting your name out there and just really seeing where you can grow it and, and meeting the right people.
[00:36:24] Jen Walton: yeah. Again, hilariously ironic. The media coverage we've gotten, I don't even think you could pay. Top level PR agency to get you. And it came at a time when like typically people want media coverage when they're, there's a launch or they're like, have a new widget that they produced and our media coverage has been like, we exist. Yay. You know, and it's kind of like, Okay, what's the call to action? And so I've felt a lot of pressure to, to get to that point and figure that out. And I think that's also part of where the education is coming [00:37:00] from, is it's kind of like a very clear, low hanging fruit for us and a very clear way to provide benefit quickly to the community.
[00:37:10] Shannon Russell: So what exactly does a storm chaser do? Talk to us about that process and what you really do when you get in that car and you start driving?
[00:37:17] Jen Walton: That's a great question too, because again, I think because of the reality shows and the coverage chasers have gotten, people think that you just like, , get in a car drive for a couple minutes and then it's just like tornadoes lots and lots of tornadoes everywhere. And that really could not be farther from the truth. One of my chasing buddies likes to say that storm chasing is 90% driving and 10% chasing, and that is accurate. What a typical day, let's say it's a successful day for me, might look like, is getting up in the morning, um, spending some time forecasting, making sure I've targeted the right area, checking models, looking at satellite observations, [00:38:00] and then, packing the car. I use a tablet that I run data on, um, food for the day. If I'm going overnight, I might have an overnight bag in Colorado, if it's a local chase, the commute typically comes after the chase is over because we always chase away from home here.
So I have to factor that in, like, how far east do I think I'm gonna get? And am I gonna be driving home in bad weather at 3:00 AM or do I need to go to a hotel? And then driving to Target. My maximum, is about four or five hours. I usually don't wanna do more than that cause I don't wanna be exhausted. When I get there. And then it's really honing in on where you think the storm's actually gonna form. So it, it's a lot of looking at radar, looking at satellite, looking at, what are your conditions gonna be in this area, in this timeframe, kind of thing. So a lot of it is [00:39:00] predictive, which means it's imperfect. . Like, I might think that I'm going to this one town, but it turns out I should be an hour farther south, so I need to like stop on a regular basis. So my experience of driving 45 minutes in my pajamas and seeing a tornado is like not real.
[00:39:17] Shannon Russell: rare. Yeah.
[00:39:17] Jen Walton: like So rare It's like never gonna happen again. And then, you know, if you're lucky, you get a great storm that lasts a while and is very photogenic and you get to spend some time with it. Sometimes you get 'em for 10 minutes, sometimes they're up for two or three hours and don't move very fast and they're in a pretty area and you can get some great photos.
[00:39:41] Shannon Russell: The goal is to take photos or video of the storms. Is that what you're really going after?
[00:39:45] Jen Walton: Depends. I mean, so I always say that a chaser's first priority is reporting it's a partnership with the National Weather Service and with emergency responders who [00:40:00] might not know what we're seeing. So especially if it's later in the season, there aren't a lot of chasers there. It's in a not not terribly populated area, but it might be heading to a populated area. , the weather service can't always see that from radar. And sometimes radar might show very little and there's actually a tornado there. In my opinion, everything else falls by the wayside relative to working with the National Weather Service, giving them photos and information being available if they have questions. After that, it kind of depends on the chaser. So for me it's, taking some video, but mostly photos and the kinds of photos I like to capture. Juxtaposed a storm with something kind of friendly and benign. Like if I can get flowers with this really scary, gnarly looking storm, that's like my favorite thing to do. So hunting around to find a good foreground. People really like [00:41:00] old abandoned buildings, um, cuz they provide a sense of scale. So just different creative. To capture weather. And some people also are working for, you know, a streamer or a channel or something, they may be reporting live, so folks are out there for different reasons. And then, you know, I, if you've seen a tornado, there's a bit of a celebration that happens as long as the tornado isn't, hasn't hit a populated area or caused damage. And then you gotta drive home.
[00:41:32] Shannon Russell: Long trip, a long activity or hobby to have,
[00:41:35] Jen Walton: is a long hobby to have. Yeah. You ha really have to be invested.
[00:41:39] Shannon Russell: Well, how close do you get and how dangerous does it get?
[00:41:43] Jen Walton: I ironically tend to be one of the safer, more cautious chasers who finds. In trouble more often than I should
[00:41:51] Shannon Russell: Mm,
[00:41:52] Jen Walton: Some storms are really cool looking, don't move real quick, and you can kind of get right up next to 'em and [00:42:00] just follow along with them while they do their thing. Others make turns or grow very quickly or, the conditions in that immediate environment will help you answer that. Like, I should probably give this storm more distance because it's moving at 50 miles an hour and it, it's, there's a lot of instability which kind of makes storms just go nuts.
Um, and so I've lost a couple of windshields to flying, hail flying. Um, and one time I had a hailstone hit in just the right spot and the whole windshield like cracked down the middle and it was like one little hailstone, right? But it was a storm that had hail in it that was like miles away from us and it was chucking hail like three, four miles away. Um, so I was in what I thought was a perfectly safe place and I don't know that I've ever been in a situation where I've actually thought [00:43:00] I was in true danger. I spend a lot of time avoiding hail and trying not to total my car from hail more than I spend time like somehow being chased by a tornado or something but there are certainly scenarios that have happened in the past with chasers. I mean, we, we had several chasers killed in 2013 in a, the largest tornado on record, in Oklahoma, which was 2.6 miles wide, which is like multiple football fields.
[00:43:30] Shannon Russell: crazy.
[00:43:31] Jen Walton: Um, and it just, grew over them essentially. So more dangerous than the storm itself is driving. People get tired, make bad decisions, blow stop signs, rear-end each other. And it's not always a chaser, doing that, but in inclement weather, people do weird things as well. We lost some folks this year, because somebody was hit by a semi because they were stopped for downed power lines. I mean, so just like [00:44:00] anything can happen. Safety is a big one and in my opinion, it's kind of number one
[00:44:07] Shannon Russell: Did you grow up watching Twister? I can just remember that that had to have been something that just stuck with you.
[00:44:13] Jen Walton: Yeah. I mean, I was 16 when Twister came out, but I also was like super into all of the natural disaster movies,
[00:44:23] Shannon Russell: Yeah.
[00:44:24] Jen Walton: which is like so I think at the time, for me, Twister probably just fell into the category of like, another cool natural disaster movie. And for sure it's so cliche, but like, chasers do quote twister all the time.
Like, it's, it's kind of ridiculous. Yeah.
[00:44:42] Shannon Russell: What do they quote?
[00:44:43] Jen Walton: So like, , you know, somebody will be chasing and there'll be a bunch of cows on the side of the road and inevitably they will take and post a picture that says, We've got cows, You know, like just stuff like that or they'll quote like, dusty or, or you [00:45:00] know, Bill saying it's going green
[00:45:02] Shannon Russell: so fun. What percentage of women do you think are chasers today?
[00:45:07] Jen Walton: I would still say 15 to 20%.
[00:45:10] Shannon Russell: And growing. You're gonna be an influencer to make it grow. I think just getting out there and educating more.
[00:45:17] Jen Walton: I hope so. I hope so. I mean, I have kind of mixed feelings about it because do struggle with, I mean, after Twister and then after Storm chasers, the, Discovery Channel Show came out. There was a massive influx of storm chasers and popularizing chasing always puts that scenario at risk a bit, right? So there is an element of me that's like, Am I going to make this worse? But at the same time, hopefully the folks I am encouraging are the, like, safe, rational, respectful types,
[00:45:51] Shannon Russell: Yes, Yes, I saw a quote on your website. I just wanted to bring up, because I thought it just encapsulates your journey. It said, "sometimes we have no [00:46:00] idea what we're capable of, and when we figure it out, our lives are forever altered." And I just thought that's so deep for all of us, all of my listeners, but for you especially, how do you feel? that correlates with just your journey of where you started and where you are today?
[00:46:17] Jen Walton: That quote is my journey, literally, you know, part of why I wasn't chasing, I mean when I look back and break it down, is I didn't think I was capable of doing that. If you read interviews with, or books written by, top athletes or people who've had immense success, none of us are any different. We weren. Born differently. You don't have something extra that other people don't have. It seems like the only difference is that we believe something different about ourselves and it really does change the way your brain works and your chemistry and everything. The day that I went out and saw [00:47:00] my first tornado, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that that storm was gonna produce a tornado. Believing that what was in front of me was possibly gonna be one of the best moments of my life made that chase , the life altering day that it was for me. And that's the way a lot of this has felt over time is, I don't look ahead and think, Okay, in a year, Girls Who Chase needs to be one specific thing or another. I just believe that what I'm doing matters if it makes a difference in one person's life, then that's enough for me.
[00:47:40] Shannon Russell: What you could have done is you could have gone out there and said, Okay, well this was fun. I'm gonna go back and get my corporate job. And so a lot of my listeners, I think, feel like what we're talking about on this show is, Oh, finding that next career that's gonna make you happy. But I think what you have brought to the [00:48:00] forefront in our conversation today is that it can be a hobby. You were looking at this as like, this could be a fun activity or something fun that I wanna try. So if a listener is listening and they might wanna try. Hiking or climbing a mountain or swimming, whatever it might be, just an activity. They can still try it. It doesn't have to change everything. Yours just happen to lead you to a whole new career, you will.
[00:48:25] Jen Walton: Yes. , both of those things are absolutely true. You can dip your toe into anything, um, and you're not stuck, you know? The reason mine has taken the track it has is, when you read those sort of personal growth books, There's patterns in all of them in terms of what worked and what didn't. Right? If you take a leader like Tony Robbins for example, he often says, it's really not that complicated. You just do what you love and it'll work out. I used to listen to that and be like, Yeah, well, I don't know what I love, right? And that sounds like [00:49:00] crap. I've got bills to pay and, you know, I'm busy and I don't have time for this kind of like airy fairy whatever. But I have to say, it's not like it's been, you know, unicorns and rainbows the whole way, right? This thing isn't making money. I'm working 18 hours a day, but because I know why I'm doing it, it's because of the thing that brings me through joy and flow. It doesn't matter. That's the key. If you find that thing, you will do whatever you have to, to get to where you need to be so that you can do it more or always or better. That is the only difference between someone like Tony s who's like a bazillionaire, you know, who is changing millions of people's lives and anyone who is sitting and listening to this podcast right now. And I am just living proof of that because I found the thing and pursued it. And then here we are.
[00:49:55] Shannon Russell: Your whole future is open to you now, so it's what you wanna make of it.
[00:49:59] Jen Walton: [00:50:00] Absolutely..
[00:50:01] Shannon Russell: So what does the next chapter look like for you?
[00:50:04] Jen Walton: right? ? That's a great question. I mean, I know what I'd like for it to look like. I certainly have a vision for that. And that is, A life full of, of purpose and kind of freedom to, design my own day and my own schedule and my own priorities. Storms are great, but I wanna go see volcanoes and I would love to chase in Australia. I've got friends down in Australia. There's all kinds of things that have been added to an already long bucket list. I just have had this vision of, now that we live in this gig economy where remote work is not so unusual anymore. Being able to take Girls Who Chase on the road with me and, you know, have my joy and passion also be paying the bills for me to do the other things in my life that I would love to do. That's, that's what I [00:51:00] want to be in front of me.
[00:51:02] Shannon Russell: Where can our audience connect with you?
[00:51:04] Jen Walton: For Girls who Chase, it's girlswhochase.com and then we're on Twitter and Instagram under the handles @girlswhochase. And if you're interested in the podcast, it's Girls Who Chase podcast on Apple and Spotify. For me personally, my website is jenniferawalton.com and I'm on Twitter under @meJenWalton, and Instagram is @trailblazinmaven.
[00:51:29] Shannon Russell: Fantastic. Oh, I'm so excited to keep following Girls Who Chase and I'm just so enamored by everything that you're doing.
[00:51:37] Jen Walton: Thank you. Well, and thanks for having me and for covering this. This is a critically important subject that does not get the air time it deserves. So thank you for doing this.
[00:51:49] Shannon Russell: Absolutely. Thank you, Jen.
How cool was this conversation with Jen Walton, Girls Who Chase just sounds like an amazing organization that [00:52:00] needs to be spread through schools and museums and different educational centers across the country. There's so much to this and it is just so inspiring. Jen realized that something was missing in her life. She found her people through storm chasing. And built a movement around it. Now she is focusing on bringing the idea of storm chasing for girls STEM for girls to the forefront. And I applaud her. As someone who owns a STEM Center myself as my other business, I truly see the value in STEM education for the younger generation of girls. And if we can start educating them at a younger age, they are going to grow to love science, love technology, and really lend their voices. And their education to those fields when they are older. If you are interested in learning more about Girls Who Chase. You can go to girlswhochase.com. And follow [00:53:00] Jen @girlswhochase or @ trailblazinmaven. Thanks so much. My friend, I will talk to you next time.
[00:53:08] Shannon: Thank you for joining us. I hope you found some gems of inspiration and some takeaways to help you on your path to Second Act Success. To view show notes from this episode, visit secondactsuccess.co. Before you go, don't forget to subscribe to the podcast. So you don't miss a single episode. Reviews only take a few moments and they really do mean so much. Thank you again for listening. I am Shannon Russell, and this is Second Act Success.