October 23, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: Max Mayfield

Director, National Hurricane Center, age 58

Mike Vogel | 12/1/2006


Max Mayfield [Photo: Brian Smith]
I've been here 34 years. I like that Forrest Gump story when he was running across the country and people were waiting for him to say something and he just said, "I'm tired, and I think I'll go home now." People think the real challenge is during the season. Travels are just about non-stop from February through May. That's just worn me down. I don't have much of a life outside the hurricane center.

I love to smile, but when I'm on camera there with the potential for loss of life, I try to keep it serious.

I drink coffee between 6 and 7. After 7 a.m. I'm on the wagon. I'm just drinking water. Any time there's something near land, the adrenaline is really going. The problem is when I go home, you just can't turn the switch and shut things down and go right to sleep. That's why I'm tired (laughs).

The staff here -- they're just outstanding. It's never been about the director. It's about the team effort.

The hard part is making the forecast. Once you make that forecast -- and I'm the world's biggest introvert here, this is not easy for me -- you can't wait to share that with the world.

You can't help but be interested in the weather growing up in Oklahoma with tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, but I never had this overwhelming desire to be a forecaster.

I love to fish. I sure haven't done much since I've been in this job. In fact, I usually have one day a year.

I love south Florida. I've joked I don't want to live north of Fort Lauderdale. I don't like the cold. Whatever my wife wants to do, we're going to do. Neither one of us wants to move anytime soon. I'm going to really take some time off. I'm going to go fishing with my friend Billy Wagner, the emergency management director for Monroe County, and then think about what options are out there.

I think I can say that one of my greatest pleasures in this job was working with the emergency managers at the local, state and FEMA levels.

You need to understand that it's about communicating not just the forecast but the uncertainty in the forecast to the decision-makers.

When I got this job, Bob Sheets told me to do two things -- keep the emergency management community happy and keep the media happy, and I've tried to do that to the best of my ability.

I had the roof damage that a lot of people had (in Hurricane Andrew), and I had a lot of water that got in. A few weeks later the walls turned black, and we ended up moving into a trailer until the following July. My insurance agent, bless his heart, is the one that actually convinced me that I needed to move out of my home. My youngest daughter, Lauren, had asthma, and she was having a really tough time. The day we moved into that trailer she was fine. I can feel for these people who are rebuilding.

You feel like you do a little bit of good occasionally. If you just focus on saving lives, everything else seems to fall into place.

My son is out of college now. My two girls are in college now, one at UF. My youngest daughter just started at FSU, so we're a house divided. When they were younger, I helped coach baseball and softball, and that was a lot of fun.

I went to FSU to grad school as my wife did. My wife got an undergrad and graduate degree at FSU. We're both Seminole fans. As we continue to develop the coastline, we're setting ourselves up for disaster.
My wife grew up here. She's a librarian at Westminster Christian school in Miami. We go to University Baptist. Lindsay (older daughter) went on a mission trip down to Haiti several years ago. My youngest daughter has been on a lot of mission trips. This was the best thing I think for my kids -- to see the needs of people that are not as fortunate as we are. I'm really glad they did it. Don't focus on the skinny black line.

One of the more memorable events for me was a World Meteorological Organization trip to Mozambique. I went to a church over there. They had all these people there worshiping in this old church with an out-of-tune piano. It was just great.

That's the sofa bed that I would stay on. I always like to be here during landfall.

You know the Department of Commerce has a mission statement, NOAA has one, the Weather Service has one, the National Hurricane Center has one. There are so many and so long. I can't remember all these, but I like 1 Corinthians 10:31 that says whatever you do, do it to the glory of God. So whatever role I'm in as a father or husband or director of the Hurricane Center I try to focus on that.

Tags: Florida Icon, Around Florida

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