Time series of convective available potential energy (CAPE) calculated from 15 tropical radiosonde stations indicate mostly positive trends in CAPE during 1958–1997. Increases in CAPE are associated with increases in near-surface temperature and water vapor, consistent with previous studies. The predominantly positive trends appear mostly as a shift in the middle 1970s, consistent with the time of an apparent shift of the background state of the climate system, as documented by others. A general circulation model of the atmosphere forced by observed sea surface temperatures does not reproduce these overall increases in CAPE, although it does reproduce the temperature trends. The observed changes imply significant changes to the tropical atmosphere over the last 40 years, and potential limitations of climate model simulations.