This study examines influences of climate variability on spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) outbreak across northwestern Colorado during the period 1650–2011 CE. Periods of broad-scale outbreak reconstructed using documentary records and tree rings were dated to 1843−1860, 1882–1889, 1931–1957, and 2004–2010. Periods of outbreak were compared with seasonal temperature, precipitation, vapor pressure deficit (VPD), the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), and indices of ocean–atmosphere oscillation that include the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). Classification trees showed that outbreaks can be predicted most successfully from above average annual AMO values and above average summer VPD values, indicators of drought across Colorado. Notably, we find that spruce beetle outbreaks appear to be predicted best by interannual to multidecadal variability in drought, not by temperature alone. This finding may imply that spruce beetle outbreaks are triggered by decreases in host tree defenses, which are hypothesized to occur with drought stress. Given the persistence of the AMO, the shift to a positive AMO phase in the late 1990s is likely to promote continued spruce beetle disturbance.