Joshua BrinksISciences, LLC 


  • Free global gridded time series climate dataset covering 1901-2019.
  • Complimentary variables and country summaries available in addition to precipitation.
  • Station coverage can be limited in certain regions; users should check area of interest.

Accurate precipitation data is vital to sustainable municipal water management, efficient agricultural and corporate supply chains, and gaining a better understanding of global environmental change. Although there are numerous global precipitation data sets, they generally come in 3 types: 1) gridded interpolated data sets produced from point estimates of a global collection of rain gauges, 2) remotely sensed products that infer precipitation from either the visible or infrared spectrum, passive sensors, or active sensors, and 3) reanalysis products that synthesize multiple geo-physical and climatological sources of data to produce high resolution and spatially uniform global precipitation estimates and forecasts.

Despite their seemingly crude technology, gridded rain gauge data products remain extremely popular with academic research, production workflows, and resource management. Their greatest advantage over remotely sensed data is a large historical record. Popular rain gauge data sets have monthly records dating back to 1900, whereas even the oldest satellite precipitation data is limited to 1979. A detailed historical record paramount to global environmental change research and establishing baselines for practitioners and resource managers. In comparison to satellite data, rain gauges are sufficiently accurate and cost effective, however, to leverage their full potential systems must be in place to centralize their data and perform quality control. With approximately 100,000-250,000 rain gauges in existence this can be an extraordinary logistical challenge.1 The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is the primary source for rain gauge data organization through maintenance of the WMO Global Telecommunication System and co-sponsorship of the Global Climate Observing System.

Three of the most widely employed and heavily cited rain gauge precipitation data products are the University of Delaware’s Terrestrial Precipitation Gridded Time Series (UDEL-TS),2 the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia’s Gridded Time Series dataset (CRU-TS v4.04),3 and the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC).4 CRU-TS provides global monthly data from 1901-2019 at 0.5 degree resolution in addition to several other climatological variables and country-year summaries. CRU-TS data has recently been featured in investigations of temporal and spatial variability of temperature and precipitation over East Africa,5 species distribution modeling in the tropics,6 and tree ring precipitation reconstruction in Kazakhstan.7

Cumulative monthly precipitation (mm) reported by CRU-TS for November 16, 2019 to December 16, 2019.

Cumulative monthly precipitation (mm) reported by CRU-TS for November 16, 2019 to December 16, 2019.

The GPCC and CRU-TS provide nearly identical temporal coverage and resolution, although they rely more on national meteorological agencies, the WMO, and the Food and Agriculture Organization for rain gauge sources. The UDEL-TS utilizes gauges from the Global Historical Climatology Network, Daily Global Historical Climatology Network, Atmospheric Environment Service archive, Hydrometeorological Institute, GC-Net, the Global Surface Summary of Day, and several other regional and global rain gauge networks. In contrast to UDEL-TS and CRU-TS that implement cross validation and outlier detection, GPCC requires a minimum of 10 uninterrupted years for each station to be included in the dataset.

It’s important to review spatial and temporal coverage when deciding which gridded rain gauge data product to incorporate into your research or other workflow. A recent review of precipitation data sets found that UDEL-TS, CRU-TS, and GPCC generally exhibit consistent inter-annual variability, however, differences can be as great as 100mm.8 The three popular gauge data sets track exceptionally well in tropical zones, but provide divergent estimates in areas with low population and complex topography such as northern Africa, northern North America, eastern Russia. Conversely, differences in seasonal precipitation estimates between UDEL-TS, CRU-TS, and GPCC were negligible.


Kidd, C. et al. So, How Much of the Earth’s Surface Is Covered by Rain Gauges? Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. 98, 69–78 (2016).
Willmott, C. J. & Matsuura, K. Smart Interpolation of Annually Averaged Air Temperature in the United States. J. Appl. Meteor. 34, 2577–2586 (1995).
Harris, I., Osborn, T. J., Jones, P. & Lister, D. Version 4 of the CRU TS monthly high-resolution gridded multivariate climate dataset. Scientific Data 7, 1–18 (2020).
Meyer-Christoffer, A., Becker, A., Finger, P., Schneider, U. & Ziese, M. GPCC Precipitation Climatology Version 2018 at 0.5°: Monthly Land- Surface Precipitation Climatology for Every Month and the Total Year from Rain- Gauges built on GTS-based and Historic Data: Globally Gridded Monthly Totals. min. 200 KByte–max. 20 MByte per gzip compressed NetCDF archive (2018) doi: 10.5676/DWD_GPCC/CLIM_M_V2018_050.
Ongoma, V. & Chen, H. Temporal and spatial variability of temperature and precipitation over East Africa from 1951 to 2010. Meteorol Atmos Phys 129, 131–144 (2017).
Deblauwe, V. et al. Remotely sensed temperature and precipitation data improve species distribution modelling in the tropics. Global Ecology and Biogeography 25, 443–454 (2016).
Zhang, R. et al. Tree-ring-based precipitation reconstruction in southern Kazakhstan, reveals drought variability since A. D. 1770. International Journal of Climatology 37, 741–750 (2017).
Sun, Q. et al. A Review of Global Precipitation Data Sets: Data Sources, Estimation, and Intercomparisons. Reviews of Geophysics 56, 79–107 (2018).

Citation Information:

  • Title: Climate Research Unit Gridded Time Series
  • Edition: Version 4.04
  • Publication Date: 2020
  • Data Form: NetCDF, DAT
  • Publisher: University of East Anglia
  • Online Host:
  • DANTE Citekey: Harris2020

Dataset Contact Information:

Ian Harris, Climatic Research Unit, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK 
Timothy J. Osborn, Climatic Research Unit, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK 
Phil Jones, Climatic Research Unit, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK 
David Lister, Climatic Research Unit, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK 

Use Constraints:

The various datasets on the CRU website are provided for all to use, provided the sources are acknowledged. Acknowledgement should preferably be by citing one or more of the papers referenced. The website can also be acknowledged if deemed necessary.


CRU TS (Climatic Research Unit gridded Time Series) is a widely used climate dataset on a 0.5° latitude by 0.5° longitude grid over all land domains of the world except Antarctica. It is derived by the interpolation of monthly climate anomalies from extensive networks of weather station observations. Here we describe the construction of a major new version, CRU TS v4. It is updated to span 1901–2018 by the inclusion of additional station observations, and it will be updated annually. The interpolation process has been changed to use angular-distance weighting (ADW), and the production of secondary variables has been revised to better suit this approach. This implementation of ADW provides improved traceability between each gridded value and the input observations, and allows more informative diagnostics that dataset users can utilise to assess how dataset quality might vary geographically.

Additional Metadata

Spatial Information:

Bounding Coordinates:

  • West Bounding Coordinate: -180.00
  • East Bounding Coordinate: 180.00
  • North Bounding Coordinate: 90.00
  • South Bounding Coordinate: -90.00

Spatial Reference Information:

  • Coordinate System: UTM
  • Resolution: 0.5
  • Units: decimal degrees
  • Geodetic Model: WGS1984

Time Period Information:

  • Beginning Date: 1901
  • Ending Date: 2019
  • Resolution: monthly

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