Video: Hurricane Center's Mayfield retiring

By Kerry Sanders Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/3/2007 7:39:45 PM ET 2007-01-04T00:39:45

Through some of the toughest hurricane seasons, he was the calm voice in the eye of the storm — reliable, unassuming, unflappable, and always there.

"Because of this quiet, laid-back, you know, non-volatile personality, people believed him!" says Walter Maestri, the emergency manager of Jefferson Parish in New Orleans.

"I can't imagine being totally retired," says Mayfield. "I jokingly say, 'the hurricane center is my soul.'"

Mayfield has worked 34 years as a government meteorologist. On his watch? 509 hurricanes and more than 900 named storms. The map looks like scribbles of an angry child.

"I am a scientist, but I'm also a public servant, and I've never forgotten that," he says.

Kerry Sanders: And that public service has saved a lot of lives.

Mayfield: I certainly hope so.

Sanders: Incalculable.

Mayfield: I would say that.

Sanders: And you're humble enough to just say that.

When it seemed too many ignored Katrina, it was Mayfield who phoned individual city officials and urged them to order evacuations. The death toll of more than 1,600 changed him.

"After Katrina he was pretty devastated by the loss of life," says Mayfield's wife Linda, "and I think people had to kind of remind him, 'look at the number of people who did evacuate and were saved.'"

A child of an Oklahoma farming family, he wanted to become a military pilot. Instead he chose a career in meteorology.

His final advice, one last time?

"Have a hurricane plan and have that plan in place before a hurricane season gets here," he says.

Tomorrow, Mayfield says, he's going fishing in the Florida Keys.

We wish him good weather.

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