Hurricane Keith 2000

Preliminary Report
Hurricane Keith
28 September - 06 October 2000


Hurricane Alberto (3)
Tropical Storm Beryl (TS)
Tropical Storm Chris (TS)
Hurricane Debby (1)
Tropical Storm Ernesto (TS)
Hurricane Florence (1)
Hurricane Gordon (1)
Tropical Storm Helene (TS)
Hurricane Isaac (4)
Hurricane Joyce (1)
Hurricane Keith (4)
Tropical Storm Leslie (TS)
Hurricane Michael (2)
Tropical Storm Nadine (TS)

Keith was a rapidly-intensifying tropical cyclone over the northwestern Caribbean Sea, reaching Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale as it stalled just off the coast of Belize. Keith affected the coastal islands of Belize as a Category 3 hurricane, but weakened to a tropical storm before actually making landfall in mainland Belize. After weakening to a tropical depression while crossing the Yucatan Peninsula, Keith re-intensified over the southwestern Gulf of Mexico and made landfall in northeastern Mexico as a Category 1 hurricane.


a. Synoptic History

A tropical wave moved off the west coast of Africa on 16 September. The wave showed signs of organization over the Atlantic from 19-22 September, but strong vertical shear prevented development then. The wave continued westward into the Caribbean Sea and started to become better organized on 27 September, when the first Dvorak satellite intensity estimate was made. Development continued, and an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft found that the system became a tropical depression about 60 nautical miles north-northeast of Cape Gracias a Dios, Nicaragua, around 1800 UTC 28 September. The depression moved northwestward, and a second flight around 1800 UTC 29 September indicated that the cyclone had become Tropical Storm Keith.

Rapid intensification began near that time, and Keith's central pressure fell from 1000 mb at 1814 UTC on the 29th to 939 mb at 0708 UTC 1 October -- a 61 mb fall in about 37 h. A 38 mb fall occurred from 1808 UTC on the 30th to the time of minimum pressure, which qualifies as explosive deepening as defined by Dunnavan (1981). Maximum winds reached 138 mph -- Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale near the time of minimum pressure. During this rapid development, Keith slowed and turned westward, with the eye moving to a position just southeast of the coastal islands of Belize. A slight weakening occurred later on the 1st, and Keith was a Category 3 hurricane when the eyewall moved over Ambergris Cay and Caye Caulker, Belize near 1800 UTC.

Motion then became slow and erratic, with the eye of Keith meandering just off the Belize coast into 3 October. This was partly due to high pressure over the Gulf of Mexico blocking the hurricane's path, and partly due to formation of a tropical disturbance (later to become Tropical Storm Leslie) near western Cuba. The cyclone weakened dramatically during this time. Keith was a Category 1 hurricane when the center crossed Ambergris Cay, Belize near 2300 UTC on the 2nd and a 69-mph tropical storm when the center crossed the Belize mainland coast between Belize City and Chetumal, Mexico around 0300 UTC on the 3rd.

Once inland, Keith began moving west-northwestward, and this direction of general motion continued with a gradual acceleration until its final landfall. It weakened to a depression over the Yucatan Peninsula, then re-intensified to a tropical storm over the Bay of Campeche on 4 October. Keith regained hurricane status on 5 October, and maximum winds increased to 91 mph as the hurricane made landfall about 20 nautical miles north of Tampico Mexico around 1800 UTC that day. Keith again weakened over land, and the cyclone dissipated over northeastern Mexico the next day.

b. Meteorological Statistics

The Hurricane Hunters flew 11 missions into Keith with a total of 34 center fixes. The maximum flight-level wind reported during the storm was 153 mph at 850 mb at 2220 UTC 1 October, while the maximum wind reported from dropsondes in the eyewall was 176 mph at 883 mb at 0705 UTC 1 October. The maximum surface wind estimated from the dropsondes was 132 mph at 0600 UTC 1 October. The best track minimum pressure was 939 mb, which requires further comment. Observed dropsonde pressures at peak intensity were 943 and 942 mb. However, the reported surface winds from those sondes were in excess of 46 mph, indicating they did not splash in the center of the eye. The 939 mb pressure is based on extrapolation of pressure values from the 700 mb flight level using the temperature and moisture data from the sondes.

The core of Keith missed most observing stations near the track. The maximum reported wind from any official station was 46 mph sustained with gusts to 63 mph at Tampico, Mexico at 1445 UTC 5 October.Amateur radio operators reported measured winds of 104-127 mph in San Pedro (on Ambergris Cay) and Caye Caulker, Belize on 1 October while under the eyewall. While these observations are significant, their reliability is uncertain.

The only ship to report tropical storm-force winds in Keith was the Edyth L (call sign C6YC), which reported 69 mph winds and a 1009.0 mb pressure in the northwestern Caribbean Sea at 1800 UTC 30 September.

1. Storm Surge Data

The only known storm surge observation was from Caye Caulker, where a 4-5 ft surge from the west occurred. Tides of 4 ft below normal were noted on the Belize mainland coast while Keith was just offshore of the coastal islands. The National Hurricane Center also received reports that northerly winds associated with Keith had temporarily blown the water out of the Bay of Chetumal and people were walking on the exposed bay bottom. This was a potentially dangerous situation, as the water could have quickly returned had Keith moved and the winds shifted.

2. Rainfall Data

Keith's slow motion led to torrential rainfall over portions of Central America, especially Belize. The largest storm total was 32.67 in at the Philip Goodson International Airport in Belize City. Several other totals exceed 10 in.

c. Casualty and Damage Statistics

There were 24 deaths attributed to Keith; 12 in Nicaragua, 6 in Honduras, 5 in Belize and 1 in Mexico.

The deaths in Belize occurred when two catamarans broke loose during the storm. Five of the deaths in Honduras occurred when an aircraft disappeared near Roatan Island during the storm. The other deaths are apparently due to flooding from heavy rains. The estimated damage to property, agriculture, and tourism in Belize is $225 Million. Much of the property damage occurred on Ambergris Cay and Caye Caulker.

There are no reports of damage or casualties from Keith's final landfall in northeastern Mexico. Heavy rains in Guatemala caused flooding in ten towns, but no estimates of the damage are available.

Maximum Intensity For Hurricane Keith
28 September - 06 October, 2000

Position Pressure
Wind Speed
Lat. (°N) Lon. (°W)
01/0700 17.9 87.3 939 140 Category 4 Hurricane

Landfall for Hurricane Keith
28 September - 06 October, 2000
Wind Speed
Stage Landfall
02/2300 988 75 Category 1 Hurricane Ambergris Cay,
03/0300 990 70 Tropical Storm Belize City,
05/1800 980 90 Category 1 Hurricane Tampico,