We had the good fortune of connecting with Jennifer Walton and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Jennifer, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk has always caused some strange and interesting internal tensions when it comes to how it has played out in my life.

Growing up, I was taught to avoid risk to my own well-being by carefully and thoughtfully ensuring my own security and stability when it came to major life decisions and finances. Yet, I’ve always been passionate about and most drawn to activities that are inherently physically risky, such as storm chasing, wildland firefighting and being an equestrian eventer. I consequently grew up believing those risky activities I truly loved were great as fun “hobbies” but could never intersect with a career, or become my life’s work. I spent the first 17 years of my career doing what I thought I “should” and more or less avoiding risk as best I could: working a 9-5 job with benefits, saving, contributing to the greater good through being a good human and a good employee that followed the rules with a smile on my face. And, ignoring the itch inside me that was getting louder and louder and demanding to be heard.

That belief system was threatened by and then finally upended by a series of significant life events, including the diagnosis of a chronic illness, a couple of significant life transitions, and finally the loss of my last full-time job one week before the pandemic hit – essentially forcing me to do what I knew was truly right for me but what scared me the most. I had to risk everything to choose what I loved over what was secure.

The leap was incredibly frightening for me and has not been without its moments, but I landed on my feet. I started my own communications consulting business and now have the freedom to pursue my true loves: storm chasing and weather photography.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My education and expertise is in climate change, environmental and science communication. I’ve worked for environmental and scientific national and international non-profits, NGOs, and PR agencies mostly in the areas of strategic communication, corporate communications program development and leadership and crisis communication. I’m passionate about environmental conservation and believe strongly in the importance of effectively communicating the changes we see across the globe.

My experience working in these technical arenas was a bit of a mixed bag. I got to work with and learn from some of the most brilliant scientific minds and amazing people who were truly passionate about their work. But in some of those organizations, I also witnessed and experienced a climate of largely unchecked misogyny and gender discrimination that I felt I had no choice but accept/stay silent about in order to stay employed. As I grew more senior in my roles, I began to feel like I had to choose between what was right and what was secure. I was managing teams, and felt that I needed to be a role model for some of the younger and/or junior staff, because we all learn behavior from observing others. I eventually began to speak out and set boundaries, and recently left full-time work to start my own consulting business and focus on my true loves of storm chasing and weather photography.

While I didn’t know it at the time, those decisions kickstarted my journey toward discovering what I now believe is (at least part of) my life’s purpose: empowering girls and women through storm chasing and weather.

For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with severe weather. And for most of my early years, I believed I couldn’t storm chase because I wasn’t a meteorologist, it was too dangerous, and I needed to go with experts, if I went at all. And, I really hadn’t seen anyone out there who looked like me… that is, anyone female. Storm chasing is a largely male-dominated arena; there are women out there, but they’re less obvious and not covered in television media much.

In 2018, I decided to let go of that limiting story, and sent myself on a chase tour and then started studying weather and forecasting. I began chasing on my own and quickly became obsessed; I studied nonstop each winter, and would analyze severe weather events I wasn’t able to chase, absorbing as much information as I could. Along the way, I couldn’t help but notice a significant imbalance in content sales, engagement, and overall support of female storm chasers; I suppose you could say I was primed to see this due to my work history. I became quite frustrated by what I was seeing, and finally launched an Instagram account in 2021 called Girls Who Chase (www.girlswhochase.com) to highlight and boost content from female storm chasers.

The account almost immediately exploded, and the chase community embraced the concept with open arms and requests for additional capabilities. It seemed that the energy had been there for quite some time, waiting to be harnessed – and for whatever reason, due to some combination of my environmental communication skill set, history and wherewithal, I was the chosen conduit. I’m incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity.

Girls Who Chase formally launched in January 2022, with a web site, promotional video, podcast interview series, and Patreon community. Its mission is to “inspire, empower and equip girls and women to pursue storms, the sciences and their passions.” It seems every day I have an opportunity to discuss new ideas or hear experiences parallel to my own from female chasers, meteorologists, researchers, and broadcast meteorologists – women who, like me, had chosen to speak out. I was recently joined by partner and veteran chaser Melanie Metz (https://www.melaniemetzstormchasing.com/), formerly of the Women’s Entertainment Network show Twister Sisters – the only television media to spotlight female storm chasers until very recently – to continue to grow the concept out and launch new capabilities.

I’ve begun to say the sky’s the limit for Girls Who Chase, and the pun is definitely intended. It’s most certainly a labor of love and is far from a lucrative business (and that’s certainly not why I created it), but it’s becoming clear to me that all of the pieces of my career and work experience, the good, difficult and random, have placed me on this now very obvious path. Ironically, for the majority of my life, I’ve said that my dream job was to work in severe weather communication in a way that would allow me to chase tornadoes. Now, I get to do that and hopefully inspire and empower women along the way – so unlike me they don’t wait to get out there and do what they truly love. Life’s too short to stay secure.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I live just north of Denver, Colorado.

I’d probably start locally, and hit some great local restaurants, coffee shops and distilleries (I love coffee and cocktails). One of my favorite things to do is head to the RiNo (River North) neighborhood in Denver and go to Colorado Sake Company for a half-priced sake flight on Tuesdays, then walk across the street to Fish n Beer for fresh mussels and grilled artichoke. My favorite distillery is probably Deki, up in Lafayette (just east of Boulder). If I’m headed south of Denver, I always try to stop by the Bagel Deli for matzoball soup and a bagel and lox.

After a day or two in Denver, I’d head west to hike near the Mt. Evans area, then spend a night or two in Telluride or Crested Butte during wildflower season. I’d continue west to Palisade and Paonia, to enjoy some wine tasting and hiking in those areas, and if it was closer to fall, I’d grab some fresh Palisade peach pie.

Then, of course I’d head east to the plains to see if I can get my bestie a tornado! Sometimes you don’t have to go far – the area around Denver International Airport is known for producing landspouts quite often during the summer. 😉

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’ve been blessed by amazing friends who have served as beacons for me while I figured out who I was, and who have believed in me and encouraged me even when I didn’t believe in myself: Donna Rouner, Leah Mori, Andrea Thorpe, Justice Keller, Leigh Piontek and Laura Kaiser.

I’ve also been incredibly lucky to cross paths with so many unbelievably talented and smart storm chasers and photographers who have become mentors, co-forecasters and friends, and without whom I certainly would not be where I’m at as a chaser and photographer. I’m particularly grateful to these folks who have gone far out of their way to help me succeed: Ashleigh Lecoupe, Tara Whichello, Parker Koppes, Justin Snead, and John Sirlin.

I’m also grateful to my parents, who taught me how to be smart and secure, so when it came time I could take the leap with confidence.

Website: www.jenniferawalton.com

Instagram: instagram.com/trailblazinmaven

Twitter: twitter.com/mejenwalton

Other: Girls Who Chase: www.girlswhochase.com twitter.com/girlswhochase instagram.com/girlswhochase patreon.com/girlswhochase Find the Girls Who Chase podcast on Apple & Spotify

Image Credits
Image with Girls Who Chase logo is credit Girls Who Chase, photographer is Shannon Bileski Image of Jennifer with camera is credit Parker Koppes Storm images all credit Jennifer Walton

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