Mayfield, Hurricane Season Stalwart, to Step Down

Max Mayfield, the public face of the National Hurricane Center, has announced he's retiring after this hurricane season.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

The man who led the National Hurricane Center during Katrina has decided to call it quits. Max Mayfield is leaving after 34 years on the job, six of which he spent as director of the Hurricane Center.

He says the hurricane season is actually easier than the rest of the year.

MAX MAYFIELD: Outside this season, that's when the battle against the hurricane's really won. I've probably been on travel four months out of that six-month period, you know, outside the season and when you're on travel it's just really tough to keep up. So I need to slow down a little bit. Take it down a notch.

SIEGEL: Mayfield will be remembered as the voice and face of the Hurricane Center, a regular on radio and television broadcasts.

NPR's Christopher Joyce reports.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: The Hurricane Center in Miami is a bunker of a building. During the hurricanes, steel shutters pull down over the windows and the doors to make it a fortress. Inside, Max Mayfield and his deputies hunker down over computers and satellite images of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast. Mayfield is an unflappable presence, a meteorologist and scientist at heart and in demeanor. He rarely shows much emotion. When Hurricane Rita was on its way toward the Gulf of Mexico last year, he sought to reassure the public.

MAYFIELD: If there's any good news here, it's not as strong as Katrina. It's not as large as Katrina. It is certainly hitting a populated area like Katrina did.

JOYCE: One month before, there was a far more serious hurricane on its way to the mainland. Katrina. It made landfall in the early morning of Monday, August 29. Three days before, Mayfield had called Walter Maestri, disaster planning chief for Louisiana's Jefferson Parish. Maestri recalls the conversation in an interview with NPR.

WALTER MAESTRI: Early on Friday I got a call from Max Mayfield. And Max is a friend of mine. You know, we've been friends for about eight years now. And Max said to me, Walter, I just want to alert you. A couple of the models are heading this thing right to New Orleans and I think this thing is going to seriously intensify. You need to be ready.

And at that time the track was going up the west coast of Florida. So I said to Max, are you kidding me? And he said no, Walt, this is real. And he's not one of those people who runs around shouting wolf, wolf, wolf.

JOYCE: Mayfield is 57 years old. He'll work through this hurricane season and retire in January. He says he wants to spend more time with his family, something he says he hasn't been able to do too much of over the past two years.

Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

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