Storm Chaser Interview: Jen Walton 

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Name: Jen Walton 

Storm chasing name: N/A

What influenced you to start storm chasing? 

Walton: I’ve always been fascinated by severe weather, really for as long as I can remember. I would watch The Weather Channel nonstop when I was very young, and then was always outside when it stormed, watching. I was privileged to go out with a storm chasing tour in 2018, and I was hooked. The tour gave me a great basic foundation, and then I spent the following three years learning to forecast and chasing on my own. I still make a ton of mistakes, but I’m really proud to be a fully self-taught chaser with the knowledge and foundation to get some storms.

How many storm chases have you been on and what’s your favourite to date?

Walton: Man, that’s hard to tally. I usually go out about 20-25 times a year, so multiply that by five…maybe 100? My favourite chase is still seeing my first tornado on my own in 2018, the June 19, 2018 Prospect Valley elephant trunk.

During a chase, what excites you the most?

Walton: Probably two things – the feeling of accomplishment when I nail a forecast, and find some great foregrounds and opportunities to get great photos with a storm.

What is the most dangerous thing you’ve had to deal with whilst chasing?

Walton: In 2020, I was chasing a storm in southeast Colorado that had interacted with a boundary in a highly unstable environment (over 5000 CAPE). There were three tornado-warned storms make a “C” shape around several of us that all ended up merging very quickly and swallowing us, making our escape route inaccessible. We had no cellular signal so couldn’t pull data, and I was concerned we might end up under a meso. We ended up with a few hail dents and a newfound respect for 5000 CAPE 😉 

Photo credit: Jen Walton

– LET’S DISCUSS CHASING IN DETAIL –

When do you start planning for a chase?

Walton: I’m a planner, so as far out as I’m able, usually about three days. I am a communications consultant, so I’ll start trying to clear my calendar when I see potential chase days.

What steps do you take to plan out where your severe weather (tornado) target will be?

Walton: Starting about 48 hours before a potential chase day, I’ll be looking at near-term models like the RAP, HRRR and NAM3km to asses a general location, storm mode and parameters. I like to start at the highest level, looking at all the parts and pieces of a setup – such as clarifying what is the lifting mechanism, how are the dewpoints, are there potential capping issues and why, what is the general terrain like in which I’ll be chasing. The afternoon and evening prior to a chase day, I’ll really be digging into parameter fine details and looking for where models are showing the bull’s eye of the best ingredients all in one place. I’ll also look at the general scenario of my road network and estimate where I might be making gas stops The morning of a chase, I shift primarily to satellite, surface observations and RAP mesoanalysis to zero in on a specific target, and then continue to adjust as I commute to my target based on updates to those three things. 

What do you take when you go chasing?

Walton: A camera bag with my Nikon Z6 and lenses, lightning trigger, tripods, lots of healthy snacks, and an overnight bag if I think I may be ranging out to far to try to drive home in the same day.

What equipment do you use to chase?

Walton: I use an iPad for radar and satellite/mesoanalysis, my iPhone 13 Pro for road mapping and video, and a WiFi hotspot to ensure an uninterrupted signal.

If someone wants to start chasing, what should they learn or do and what should they expect?
Walton: Definitely start with a storm spotting course form the National Weather Service to learn the different parts of a storm and get certified! Then they could learn to forecast and go out with some experts a few times to learn the ropes. I also recommend they check out www.girlswhochase.com/education – we have aggregated some of the top chasing resources all in one place for folks wanting to learn. One never knows what to expect from chasing, but it’s always fair to expect an adventure of some kind.

Stay tuned to Discover Tornadoes for more tornado news, information, and more. Stay tuned for more storm chaser interviews.

If you’re a storm chaser and would love to be interviewed! Email us at discovertornadoes@gmail.com.

RELATED: Storm Chaser Interview: Scott Hollinger

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