Hurricane forecast retains ties to Oklahoma

Saturday, September 25th 2004, 6:08 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The head of the nation's hurricane center in Miami, who has overseen five devastating storms since August, is an Oklahoman and still a Sooner fan.

Max Mayfield, who grew up in Oklahoma City, got about six minutes to talk recently as he rushed between media interviews, hurricane updates and tours with officials. The rapid-fire schedule left him breathless.

``I have people on hold from Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana,'' Mayfield said between time updates and gasps for air. ``They said I have four minutes for each one.''

His over-packed agenda didn't keep him from taking the chance to talk about his favorite subject this time of year _ Oklahoma football.

When asked about how he got into weather, he mentioned his love of the college pastime and how friends from the geosciences and meteorology departments at the University of Oklahoma offered him tickets to the next contest with Texas Tech. He turned them down to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan and upcoming Tropical Storm Jeanne.

When asked about his parents, Mayfield reminisced about his father taking him to ball games as a child.

When the topic of work experience arose, he listed his time as an usher at Memorial Stadium in Norman and his stint as a ``stretcher boy'' that allowed him to watch games from the end zone.

``My dad would take me to the football games when I was 5 years old and then I ushered just to get into a couple games and see the Sooners play,'' Mayfield said.

``I loved those football games.''

Mayfield, 56, hasn't lived in Oklahoma for decades, but he clearly hasn't abandoned his Okie roots. His upbringing in the Sooner State offered him a free weather laboratory not available to all children.

``You can't help but be interested in the weather when you grow up in Oklahoma with all the tornadoes. You kind of get hooked,'' he said.

``Seeing hail in the middle of springtime covering my yard, that's probably the first recollection; and getting into closets.''

That interest in weather followed Mayfield into the Air Force where he served as a forecaster, and eventually to Florida where he discovered a whole new kind of storm.

``He's kind of like the Gary England of the hurricane set,'' said Marilyn Ehlers, Mayfield's cousin in Oklahoma City.

``Our family has learned so much about hurricanes that we probably would have never paid attention to. We have a 5-year-old grandson that watches Max on TV, so maybe he'll grow up to be a weather guy.''

One of the most common questions asked of Mayfield, other than those on storm track estimates, is why an Oklahoma boy is studying hurricanes instead of tornadoes.

His uncle, Grover Peters of Killeen, Texas, said hurricanes are just like spread-out twisters, so his family isn't surprised Mayfield ended up following the massive storms.

``I think it's pretty great. I see him on TV or see him in the paper; a little country boy from Oklahoma City,'' Peters said. ``He is the No. 1 man in the hurricane center for the whole United States, so I think it's pretty impressive.''

Mayfield's high-profile job isn't the family's first brush with success. Mayfield's grandparents were among the original settlers of Oklahoma and, while he is an only child, Mayfield's cousins are successful as teachers, a lawyer and the president of a business in Tulsa.

Mayfield's mother, Madeline, was a teacher in Fox and Oklahoma City, and his father, Britt, served on several state commissions.

Mayfield was a good student and a violin player, whose children are following in the family tradition of accomplishment. Mayfield's son served as a White House intern last year.

Mayfield said students in Oklahoma shouldn't limit their thinking or dreams because they come from a certain area of the country or don't have a lot of money. He said such a situation led him to one of the highest weather posts in the world.

``There's so much on the Internet, you don't need an expensive lab,'' he said. ``You just go outside. ... It's a wonderful science to study.''