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Growing up in Illinois, the Norman family would gather their chairs and sit with the garage door open, looking out over the neighborhood as storms would roll in. A young Royal, who had the habit of clipping the weather report out of the newspaper, received a cardboard meterology set as a gift from his aunt.
It can surprising how themes from childhood can grow, unwittingly, into lifelong pursuits.
“I’ve always liked weather. It’s always changing,” said Royal Norman, as he sits among several computers modeling the upcoming forecast to share for the evening broadcast. He’ll be on the news later that night, helping people prepare for their week. As chief meteorologist for Phoenix’s KTVK 3TV, Norman oversees weather for the station – a perfect job for the kid sitting with his family in the garage.
Norman started his career in radio. He worked the soundboards and reported on local news. His wife, Nancy, also worked in radio. It was while they were working in Battle Creek, Michigan, Nancy received a job offer in Phoenix that would ultimately change the course for Norman’s career, too.
Once in Arizona, Norman decided to pursue his lifelong interest in meteorology. Enrolling at Arizona State University, Norman was finally able to delve deeper into the science of meteorology that always intrigued him.
Norman graduated from ASU in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in geography with a focus of meteorology and climatology.
“One thing I never believed was that I could finish college — it seemed so daunting to me,” said Norman, who also attended Indiana University and Phoenix College prior to enrolling at ASU. “And then I did! So, I started thinking maybe I could do some other stuff.”
Graduating from ASU sparked a confidence in Norman. He realized that 3TV was the only station in Phoenix who only employed “weathermen,” and not a single meteorologist. He stepped out on a limb and wrote a letter to the station. “In my letter I told them I had been doing radio for years and that I was a meteorologist, and that I don’t think I would suck at it,” laughed Norman.
The letter opened the door to an audition. Norman watched the station’s top weatherman for a week straight and practiced his own forecasts in the mirror in preparation. After a few months waiting following his audition, Norman finally learned he got the job, where he started with weekend forecasts — three shows at $50 per show.
That letter has led Norman on the path to a 35-year career as a television meteorologist. It has also presented incredible opportunities like going to Hawaii to cover Kilauea.
“One day, I finished up the noon broadcast and my assistant news director asked if I wanted to go to Hawaii. I agreed,” Norman said with a laugh. “He said ‘Okay, pack your bag.’ It was amazing. I was standing just a few feet from flowing lava.”
He didn’t always have to fly across the Pacific Ocean to find excitement. In 1986, Norman witnessed a funnel cloud form over the town of Apache Junction, southeast of Phoenix, with a bird’s eye view from a helicopter. “It only lasted about five minutes, but it was really cool.” The tornado only caused minimal damage but left a lasting impression.
His career has also provided the opportunity to reconnect with his school roots. Randy Cerveny, professor of meteorology and climatology with the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, has teamed up with Norman and 3TV to provide his expertise over the years. One such instance was in 1993 when torrential rains sent floodwaters down the then dry riverbed of the Salt River. At the time, the Mill Avenue Bridge was under construction. As the flood waters raged, Norman and Cerveny provided a live coverage and commentary of the flooding as the bridge collapsed into the waters below.
Norman’s career will once again intersect with his education as the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning welcomes him back as a Distinguished Alumnus.
A brand new honor from the school, a distinguished alumnus aims to recognize alumni from the school who have gone on to make great strides and achievements in their careers. Coinciding with the distinction is the opportunity for the alumnus to share their story at the Distinguished Alumnus Lecture.
“Our alumni are making an impact in this world,” said Trisalyn Nelson, director of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “Mr. Norman is no different. Every day, he brings his knowledge of weather and cheerful demeanor into homes across Arizona. His award-winning work on monsoons has helped immensely in making Arizonans more informed and safer during the annual monsoon season.”
The inaugural lecture, featuring Royal Norman, will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at ASU’s Memorial Union. Norman will share stories of his unconventional career path, as well as some of his favorite stories from his time at ASU and throughout his career.
The event is free and open to the public. For more information and to reserve your seat, visit: geoplan.asu.edu/alumnus_lecture.