Natural climate variability will continue to be an important aspect of future regional climate even in the midst of long-term secular changes. Consequently, the ability of climate models to simulate major natural modes of variability and their teleconnections provides important context for the interpretation and use of climate change projections. Comparisons reported here indicate that the CMIP5 generation of global climate models shows significant improvements in simulations of key Pacific climate mode and their teleconnections to North America compared to earlier CMIP3 simulations. The performance of 14 models with simulations in both the CMIP3 and CMIP5 archives are assessed using singular value decomposition analysis of simulated and observed winter Pacific sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and concurrent precipitation over the contiguous United States and northwestern Mexico. Most of the models reproduce basic features of the key natural mode and their teleconnections, albeit with notable regional deviations from observations in both SST and precipitation. Increasing horizontal resolution in the CMIP5 simulations is an important, but not a necessary, factor in the improvement from CMIP3 to CMIP5.