Widespread amphibian extinctions in the mountains of the American tropics have been blamed on the interaction of anthropogenic climate change and a lethal pathogen. However, limited meteorological records make it difficult to conclude whether current climate conditions at these sites are actually exceptional in the context of natural variability. We use stable oxygen isotope measurements from trees without annual rings to reconstruct a century of hydroclimatology in the Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica. High-resolution measurements reveal coherent isotope cycles that provide annual chronological control and paleoclimate information. Climate variability is dominated by interannual variance in dry season moisture associated with El Niño Southern Oscillation events. There is no evidence of a trend associated with global warming. Rather, the extinction of the Monteverde golden toad (Bufo periglenes) appears to have coincided with an exceptionally dry interval caused by the 1986-1987 El Niño event.