Jaclyn Whittal has gone from chasing auditions and top-100 radio glory to chasing storms.
Whittal moved to Okanagan Landing with her husband Ross, from their home near Brantford, Ont., in August 2020. She’s a meteorologist with the Weather Network (TWN), a job she’s enjoyed immensely for the past nine years.
Before she joined TWN, Whittal was working for a Global TV outlet in Saskatchewan where she met a photographer named Greg Johnson, a storm chaser. He invited her along one spring to Tornado Alley in the central U.S., famous for its twisters.
“My news director thought that would be great, helpful for the severe summer weather action in Saskatchewan,” laughed Whittal, who celebrated her 43rd birthday Feb. 7. “I went along, saw my first tornado in 2011, and have been hooked ever since.”
Whittal is among the hosts of a Weather Network show called Storm Hunters and returns to Tornado Alley every May chasing severe weather.
“I’ve also chased in the Canadian Prairie several times, too,” she said. “I’ve seen countless tornadoes, several hurricanes and major winter storms. You name it, I’ve spent 11 years covering the biggest storms in North America.”
The native of Windsor, Ont., began her professional career as a singer and performer, touring around the world with different musical productions. She recorded and released a pair of rock albums under her name, Screwtiny, and Lipsting, co-written and produced by her husband, which is how they met (both albums can be heard on Spotify).
As she turned 30, and with 11 years behind her, Whittal was through with the competitive audition scene in Toronto, a business that comes with plenty of rejection that was starting to get to her. She figured a job in media would be a good marriage for her, given her background.
“I started in radio and did that for one year, and I did some volunteer community television to learn that craft,” said Whittal. “At the same time, my nerdy passion for weather I’d had for many years surfaced so I decided to follow that direction.”
She enrolled in a three-year, three-semesters-per-year distance-learning meteorology program from Mississippi State University. Whitall graduated and then moved away from her husband and three stepdaughters for a year to work at Global in Saskatchewan. A year later, she returned home to the Toronto area, landed a gig with Global there, then jumped at the chance to join the Weather Network.
When she began, Whittal was broadcasting weather forecasts. But, like many forms of media, the digital world beckoned. The Weather Network began a website, and then a phone app which she said has become Canada’s second most popular app next to Facebook based on downloads.
She writes and produces stories and videos for the website and app, including explaining the science behind why her new home, the Okanagan Valley, is perpetually grey from October to March. When she and Ross arrived in the North Okanagan in August, they were greeted with endless sunshine and blue skies through to Thanksgiving.
“I should have done more research about that as a meteorologist,” jokes Whittal. “We’re not used to prolonged sunny stretches.”
The decision to move west came about after the couple became empty nesters. The three girls have grown and moved away.
COVID-19 gave Whittal the chance to do what her husband has done for 30 years — work from home.
Ross runs a music publishing company and composes music for film and TV.
“We absolutely love it here,” said Whittal, who reports from the comfort of a bedroom in their home, complete with lighting and cameras.
“I can file stories and video to the web and app from here, or I have the ability to go live,” she said. “Isn’t it cool what technology can do?”