Assessing forest resource damage following natural disasters using national forest inventory plots: a case study of Hurricane Michael


Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm that made landfall on October 10, 2018, caused considerable damage in the States of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. We assessed forest resource damages using the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Forest Inventory and Analysis program’s permanent forest inventory plot network and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s defined storm damage severity zones. This assessment showed there had been 6.17 million acres of forest land with 10.01 billion cubic feet of timber within the damage zones. Of that total, 6.81 billion cubic feet remained alive after the hurricane, 1.54 billion cubic feet were standing dead, and 1.66 billion cubic feet were utilized. This represents a total of 68.0 percent of live tree volume surviving across the entire damage zone, with survival decreasing from 74.5 percent in moderately damaged areas to 36.6 percent in the catastrophically damaged areas. The percentage of utilized tree volume across all damage severity zones averaged 16.6 percent, with higher utilization rates in the catastrophic zone (39.4 percent). Over the entire damaged area, more volume per acre was left alive (1,103.50 cubic feet per acre) than left standing dead (248.97 cubic feet per acre) or utilized (269.67 cubic feet per acre). But this varied by State, damage severity zone, and major species group. Pines (Pinus spp.) showed decreasing amounts of live volume remaining in the forest with increasing damage severity, ranging from 70.0 percent in the moderately damaged zone to 22.7 percent in the catastrophically damaged zone. Other softwoods and both hardwood groups were less impacted than pines. The percentage of volume utilized after the hurricane was highest for the pines, with 50.5 percent of the pre-hurricane live volume utilized in the catastrophically damaged zone. The amounts of down woody materials found on the forest floor on plots remeasured after the passage of Hurricane Michael were considerably (over four times) higher than those found prior to the hurricane, most notably for coarse woody materials and piles.

ERRATA (August 2022): Four minor corrections were made to tables 4, 8, 11, and 13—the State names “Georgia” and “Florida” were switched. The States should have been listed in alphabetical order.

  • Citation: Brandeis, Thomas; Turner, Jeffery; Baeza Castro, Andrés; Brown, Mark; Lambert, Samuel. 2022. Assessing forest resource damage following natural disasters using national forest inventory plots: a case study of Hurricane Michael. Res. Pap. SRS-65. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 30 p.
  • Keywords: Damage assessment, down woody materials, forest inventory, hurricane, natural disaster, tree mortality, wood volume.
  • Posted Date: April 15, 2022
  • Modified Date: August 16, 2022
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