Former Director, National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Department of Commerce
Served as Director of the National Hurricane Center where his accurate predictions and preparedness work helped mitigate the damage of numerous natural disasters.
One of the cruelest ironies of Hurricane Katrina is that that the one person who, more than anyone else, got things right, is the one person you wish would have gotten it wrong. But thanks to the National Hurricane Center’s spot-on forecast of Hurricane Katrina under the leadership of Max Mayfield and the warnings Max Mayfield personally made to government officials at all levels, in addition to years of work helping communities better prepare for hurricanes, the overwhelming devastation of Hurricane Katrina wasn’t as bad as it could have been. This was just one of many instances throughout a remarkable career when this man who could see the future helped shape history for the better.
For the past six years, Max Mayfield served as Director for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. During his tenure, some of the most devastating hurricanes in U.S. history ravaged coastal communities, including Hurricane Katrina. He was nationally recognized not only for his technical expertise, but for his calm and honest guidance in times of crisis.
His service with the Hurricane Center was the culmination of a dedicated career in federal service. After starting his career in 1970 as a forecaster with the Air Force, Mayfield became a satellite meteorologist for the National Weather Service in 1972, and he has been involved in storm tracking since.
Today, he is known as the calm before the storm, literally. He emphasized personal preparedness for storms to protect countless coastal residents. He worked personally with the media to nationally express the urgent need for emergency preparedness. He spoke honestly about the threat without diminishing the danger, but his reserved approach reassured audiences and guided them on how to protect themselves and their family.
He became such a trusted and familiar voice to the American public that in 2004 he was honored with an Emmy awarded to those who are not traditionally eligible for the award, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Governor’s Award.
While his work on camera may have earned him the most attention, it was not where he made his greatest impact. Mayfield understood that the battle against the hurricane is won outside the hurricane season. He oversaw hurricane awareness programs across the country, and he traveled nonstop to help communities prepare the country for the worst. He promoted smarter land use and better building codes as a core component of every preparedness plan.
Mayfield was also was a leader in the creation of the Hurricane Liaison Team, a partnership between FEMA and the National Weather Service that allows Federal and state agencies to respond quickly and effectively to the threat of storms on the coastal region. This tremendous effort streamlined communication and equipped the federal government with an additional tool to curb the devastating effects to coastal communities unlike ever before. He built relationships with emergency managers across the country to assure the fewest mistakes are made and the most lives are saved.
Mayfield’s reach was global. He served as regional Hurricane Committee Chairman for the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization. In this position, he led improvements in their hurricane operational plan that is now used around the world.
Max Mayfield has retired from government service to spend time with his family in Miami, where he also serves as a hurricane specialist with the local ABC affiliate, WPLT-TV. Most people retire to Florida, because they want to get away from the action. Max Mayfield is there because he wants to be in the middle of it, so even after government service, he will be able to continue serving others, as he did throughout his entire government career.