Headshot of Jen Walton
Credit: Jen Walton
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For many years, Jen Walton helped scientists share their work as a communications manager. But the Denver resident also harbored a deep secret.

“I just really wanted to go see a tornado,” she said. “Severe weather has always been a passion.”

Walton repeatedly tried to convince storm-chasing scientists to take her with them. But those trips never panned out. In 2018, shortly after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Walton decided to stop waiting.

That summer, she joined a storm-chasing tour that took her to Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming. When she got back, Walton learned how to read radar data from a meteorologist at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory. Before long, she was packing supplies, camera gear, and food into her Honda CR-V and driving east to chase extreme weather herself.

“Typically, you go out to dinner to see your friends. We drive to the middle of nowhere to see ours.”

While documenting the fury—and beauty—of storms, Walton met fellow chasers. The chasing community has its own unique way of socializing, she said: “Typically, you go out to dinner to see your friends. We drive to the middle of nowhere to see ours.” Walton was surprised to encounter other women storm chasers.

Women, when they are included in magazine articles or TV shows about storm chasing, are commonly portrayed as a tagalong sidekick or girlfriend, she said. “I had kind of internalized that.”

In 2021, she created an Instagram page highlighting women storm chasers. There was an immediate positive response. “The chase community just kind of went nuts over it,” said Walton.

Walton spent the next several months developing a platform called Girls Who Chase, which now encompasses a website, podcast, and workshops for people interested in learning how to chase storms.

A woman wearing a violet shirt and black pants is standing in a field of dry grass taking pictures of dark clouds.
Jen Walton photographs a storm brewing in eastern Colorado. Credit: Matt Hollamon Photography

Today Walton describes herself as a storm and volcano chaser, photographer, and entrepreneur. Her work regularly takes her to the Great Plains, and in 2022 she traveled to Hawaii to document the eruption of Mauna Loa. Walton takes great pride in collaborating with the National Weather Service. Her on-the-ground observations of storms provide data for future decisionmaking and training, she said.

Hearing from readers and listeners who are inspired by Girls Who Chase is extremely rewarding, Walton said. “That’s the stuff that gets me up in the morning.”

And the best way to finish off the day? Walton answered like a true weather nerd: “My ideal day ends with a very photogenic supercell.”

—Katherine Kornei (@KatherineKornei), Science Writer

This profile is part of a special series in our August 2023 issue on science careers.

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Citation: Kornei, K. (2023), Jen Walton: Chaser of storms and lava, Eos, 104, https://doi.org/10.1029/2023EO230276. Published on 25 July 2023.
Text © 2023. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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