Recent observations of elevated tree mortality following climate extremes, like heat and drought, raise concerns about climate change risks to global forest health. We currently lack both sufficient data and understanding to identify whether these observations represent a global trend towards increasing tree mortality. Here, we document events of sudden and unexpected elevated tree mortality following heat and drought events in ecosystems that previously were considered tolerant or not at risk of exposure. These events underscore the fact that climate change may affect forests with unexpected force in the future. We use the events as examples to highlight current difficulties and challenges for realistically predicting such tree mortality events and the uncertainties about future forest condition. Advances in remote sensing technology and greater availably of high-resolution data, from both field assessments and from satellites, are needed to improve both understanding and prediction of forest responses to future climate change.