Under scenarios of climate change the likelihood of more intensive extreme weather events like tropical cyclones is expected to increase and many tropical regions most at risk from cyclones are still developing economically. With increased urbanisation predicted over the next 20–50 years to cope with population growth, it is important that planning for urban development in these regions considers amelioration of danger, especially the impacts associated with cyclone damage. Approaches to risk management can learn a lot from past experiences with cyclonic events. The knowledge that was accumulated after the devastation of Darwin, Australia by Cyclone Tracy in 1974 provides important evidence that can contribute towards risk mitigation and disaster management in the future. Applying a mixed methods approach, this study examines historical information collected at the time of Cyclone Tracy to help understand the role of the urban forest and positioning of housing in reducing cyclone damage. It includes a review of whether the pattern of tree cover, which is influenced by geophysical and socio-cultural factors, mitigates or exacerbates cyclone damage. The results of the study show that although the relationship is complex, trees appear to have a role to play in ameliorating cyclone damage under certain conditions. This potential gain, along with the other benefits trees offer to tropical urban areas, means that trees are an important consideration for future urban planning in developing regions.