Tropical cyclone (TC) waves can severely damage coral reefs. Models that predict where to find such damage (the ‘damage zone’) enable reef managers to: 1) target management responses after major TCs in near-real time to promote recovery at severely damaged sites; and 2) identify spatial patterns in historic TC exposure to explain habitat condition trajectories. For damage models to meet these needs, they must be valid for TCs of varying intensity, circulation size and duration. Here, we map damage zones for 46 TCs that crossed Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from 1985–2015 using three models – including one we develop which extends the capability of the others. We ground truth model performance with field data of wave damage from seven TCs of varying characteristics. The model we develop (4MW) out-performed the other models at capturing all incidences of known damage. The next best performing model (AHF) both under-predicted and over-predicted damage for TCs of various types. 4MW and AHF produce strikingly different spatial and temporal patterns of damage potential when used to reconstruct past TCs from 1985–2015. The 4MW model greatly enhances both of the main capabilities TC damage models provide to managers, and is useful wherever TCs and coral reefs co-occur.