How to read GRIB files!

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Back to ECMWF overview[1]

Updated by nik: 13 March 2013


GRIdded Binary is a compressed format for meterological data used since 1985.

Requires software for encoding and decoding.


Currently used for ECMWF operational surface and pressure level data.

GRIB1 data is stored in 5 sections where section 4 includes the compressed data and the other sections are data specifications.

One GRIB1 file may include many messages (blocks of sections).


was introduced for ECMWF operational model level data on 18 May 2011.

Migration from GRIB1 to GRIB2 was necessary because GRIB1 data could only hold 126 model levels.

Number of model levels in the high resolution forecast will be increased from 91 to 137 in June 2013.

Pressure levels will still have GRIB1 but eventually this will also be changed.

"Old" model data will still have GRIB1 format in the archive.

GRIB2 also allows more flexibility and is more complex than GRIB1.

For example higher precision of variables.

GRIB1: Lon/lat is in milli-degree
GRIB2: Lon/lat is in micro-degree

GRIB2 data are stored in 8 sections where section 7 includes the compressed data and the other sections are data specifications. Thus, the structure of GRIB1 and GRIB2 messages is different, the order of the sections are different and there are additional sections for GRIB2.


To decode GRIB data there are software available from ECMWF.

This software is the GRIB_API (Application Programming Interface) library.

This software hides the binary layer of the message and uses a key/value approach to access the information in a GRIB message.

GRIB1 and GRIB2 uses the same function call.

Many keys to identify a parameter are edition independent, use these where possible!

GRIB_API can be used either through

Command line tools
Fortran90/C/Python interfaces


General use of the grib tools

grib_<tool> [options] grib_file1 grib_file2... [output file]

Tools to inspect the content of and compare GRIB messages

grib_ls       lists the messages in a GRIB file
grib_dump     provides a more detailed view and listing of the file


Tools for counting and copying some messages


Tools for making changes to the content of a GRIB message