Hurricane María tripled stem breaks and doubled tree mortality relative to other major storms
Tropical cyclones are expected to intensify under a warming climate, with uncertain effects on tropical forests. One key challenge to predicting how more intense storms will influence these ecosystems is to attribute impacts specifically to storm meteorology rather than differences in forest characteristics. Here we compare tree damage data collected in the same forest in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Hugo (1989, category 3), Georges (1998, category 3), and María (2017, category 4). María killed twice as many trees as Hugo, and for all but two species, broke 2- to 12-fold more stems than the other two storms. Species with high density wood were resistant to uprooting, hurricane-induced mortality, and were protected from breakage during Hugo but not María. Tree inventories and a wind exposure model allow us to attribute these differences in impacts to storm meteorology. A better understanding of risk factors associated with tree species susceptibility to severe storms is key to predicting the future of forest ecosystems under climate warming.