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Mangroves buffer inland ecosystems from hurricane winds and storm surge. However, their ability to withstand harsh cyclone conditions depends on plant resilience traits and geomorphology. Using airborne lidar and satellite imagery collected before and after Hurricane Irma, we estimated that 62% of mangroves in southwest Florida suffered canopy damage, with largest impacts in tall forests (>10 m). Mangroves on well-drained sites (83%) resprouted new leaves within one year after the storm. By contrast, in poorly-drained inland sites, we detected one of the largest mangrove diebacks on record (10,760 ha), triggered by Irma. We found evidence that the combination of low elevation (median = 9.4 cm asl), storm surge water levels (>1.4 m above the ground surface), and hydrologic isolation drove coastal forest vulnerability and were independent of tree height or wind exposure. Our results indicated that storm surge and ponding caused dieback, not wind. Tidal restoration and hydrologic management in these vulnerable, low-lying coastal areas can reduce mangrove mortality and improve resilience to future cyclones.