About Jack Williams

Since retiring as the founding weather editor of USA TODAY in 2005 and from the American Meteorological Society (AMS) in 2009, where he wrote The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide to America’s Weather, Williams has concentrated on freelance science and aviation writing.

Tom Skilling (right) interviews Jack Williams on Skilling's WGN-TV noon broadcast on July 28, 2009. Photo by Darlene Shields

This now includes being the co-author with Stephen Leatherman–who is widely known as Dr Beach–of The Field Guide to the Waters’ Edge, which the National Geographic Society published in May 2012. This is the seventh book that Williams has written or co-wrote. More on Jack’s books.

His other recent freelance work includes:

  • Contributing to the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang blog and writing a story on tornado research that appeared in the paper’s Science Section as well as on the blog
  • The cover story in the July-August 2011 issue of Weatherwise magazine on weather forecasting for the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery in February 2011.
  • A story in the print and online Summer 2011 issue of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Magazine on hurricane research conducted by  Jeffrey Halverson, a UMBC professor.
  • An article in the Smithsonian Air & Space magazine’s July 2011 print and online issues  on why lighting, which regularly hits airplanes, does not knock them out of the sky.
  • Continuing to write a monthly column on weather for pilots in Flight Training Magazine, which he began writing in 1993.

Reporting for the USA Today newspaper and then its Web site after it went online in 1995 required Williams to communicate complex scientific ideas using both words and graphics. As a result, he become skilled at visualizing how to explain scientific concepts with images and a few words, and then working with artists to realize his vision.

In late 1996 a scientist that Jack had profiled in his USA TODAY Weather Book suggested that he apply to the National Science Foundation to be one of the few journalists that the NSF sends to Antarctica each year. He applied and the NSF sent him to Greenland to report for USA TODAY on research there in the summer of 1997. The NSF sent him to Antarctica in January 1999 where he filed daily reports for USATODAY.com and wrote other stories for the online site and the USA TODAY newspaper.

While with USA TODAY he made two other reporting trips to Greenland and one to report from Barrow, Alaska, and a research icebreaker sailing on the Arctic Ocean. He also flew into a half dozen hurricanes aboard a NOAA P-3 research airplane.

Jack has also written about auto racing and aviation–he’s a licensed pilot but no longer active. In 2003 and again in 2004 he covered the 24-hour Le Mans, France, auto race for USA TODAY.

The Jacksonville (Florida) Journal newsroom where Jack Williams began his reporting career in 1962.

Williams went to USA Today with two decades of experience as a newspaper reporter and copy editor, where he absorbed the virtues of accurate and clear writing, and going beyond the obvious to find the real story.

Jack took the photo to the left when he was working as a general assignment reporter for the Jacksonville Journal, his first newspaper job. The paste pot, black telephone and cluttered desk, the manual typewriter, and mostly men–all in white shirts and ties–were typical of newsrooms of the time. He recalls only one woman reporter and thinks the other woman in the photo was the newsroom secretary.

The talents Williams developed as USA Today weather editor served him well not only with his USA Today readers but also with a wider audience with his six books and will serve him well with future books and other projects as he continues to grow as a writer.

Williams has also taken part in several panels and meetings on public understanding of science. He was one of two “Climate Communication Experts” asked to review the Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States report from U.S. Climate Change Science Program. This report was issued on June 16, 2009. Williams is listed on page 6 of the full report, which is available as a PDF file.

Working with artists to create informational graphics

The advertising brochure (PDF file) for The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide to America’s Weather is available on the University of Chicago Web site. The brochure has several of the graphics that Jack conceived. He then worked with the artists as they produced the graphics.

An animated graphic that one of the USATODAY.com graphic designers created, working with Jack Williams, is another example of Jack’s ability to work with artists. It was for his package of stories from the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy in 2002.

The Jack’s Writing page has links to several of the stories and articles he has written.

More about Williams and his outside interests

Jack and his wife, Darlene Shields, who is an accomplished photographer, live in Falls Church, Virginia. They are both members of the National Press Club, where Darlene is chair of the photography committee. Jack is chair of the NPC book discussion group.

Jack is a National Fellow of The Explorers Club and is public relations chair  of  The Explorers Club Washington Group. This includes keeping the ECWG Web site up to date.

As a writer, Jack is a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and the D.C. Science Writers Association.

With his interests in science, especially the atmospheric and related sciences, Jack is a member of the American Meteorological Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.