It’s hard to believe, but August 24th marks the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, a day engrained in the minds of most South Floridians. No one is more knowledgeable or synonymous with the event than former National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield, the calm voice and face we saw when the winds outside were anything but. In 2000, he retired from the NHC and is now WPLG Local 10’s Hurricane Expert.
To commemorate the anniversary, Max recently spoke to a packed house at Deering Estate, a place many believe was hardest hit by Andrew. “For many years, I and other emergency managers met here to learn how different agencies needed to work together during hurricanes to provide maximum preparation and protection for Floridians,” explained Mayfield. “If we don’t remember the past, we are condemned to repeat it.” Thus the reason he held an evening to reminisce about the lessons learned from Andrew.
For about an hour, Max, in his folksy way, walked us through his days of Andrew. “Back then, the technology was primitive and we only made 3-day predictions. The storm path modeling was not accurate either.” Mayfield showed a map with the predicted paths. None had it close to hitting any part of Florida. “We also didn’t project this as a Category 5 hurricane. In fact, it took many months to look back at the collected data to finally give it that designation.”
“I was on the evening shift at the National Hurricane Center [located on US-1 in Coral Gables across from the University of Miami back then] when Andrew arrived. Thankfully, our neighbor helped my wife put up our shutters because I was busy at work.” Max showed the radar loops as Hurricane Andrew came ashore. On one frame, the NW quadrant went blank. “We heard a bang outside and found our radar and satellite antennae shredded the next morning.” With a grin and a wink he followed with, “The good news that came out of that was that we got the cutting edge DOPPLER radar installed shortly thereafter.”
Mayfield went on to showcase aftermath photos mixed with about a dozen short stories. Each taught a lesson of how things worked and failed with hurricane planning and recovery. “Although the storm surge was over 16-feet here at Deering, Hurricane Andrew was not the big one. Thankfully, this did not hit Miami Beach, downtown Miami, or the airport.”
Max showed a picture of a nearly destroyed house and the next photo showed what remained of the kitchen. A wall-mounted phone remained on a ripped wall. “Believe it or not, that phone still worked. When people arrived, they found the woman homeowner alive and tried calling 9-1-1 but only got a busy signal. She died a few hours later.”
On one aerial photo east of Countrywalk, Max showed two developments. One was devastated while the other showed almost undamaged roofs. “This is Munne Estates and this builder cared and he did something right.” Max attributed the lack of devastation to those homes a result of solid building. Thankfully, things got a lot stricter since then, incorporating Andrew lessons.
The good news, Mayfield reports, is that our communication technology, hurricane forecasting, building codes and emergency teams are all vastly superior to 1992. The bad news is with all of today’s hustle and bustle, people tend to forget what they need to be doing.
“Our memories are so short. It had been 27 years between Betsy and Andrew. Now I can sense that memory lapse happening again. History is a pretty good teacher and it teaches us that we need to have a plan, no matter what the seasonal forecasts are.” Max went on to say, “It only takes one [storm] and it’s far better to be prepared and stand down than the alternative.”
I want to thank Max Mayfield for his extra time with me and for his years of service to the South Florida community.
Here are a few video selections related to this blog post. The first one shows highlights of the evening with Max. Sorry for the bad audio. It was like that in the hall too.