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HOME > Monitoring and Data > Oceanic & Atmospheric Data > Meteorlogical Data Servers
Fast Downloading of GRIB Files
Partial http transfers

Downloading meteorological data can be a pain. Servers are under-powered, connections are slow and the "bean counters" figure that 800 GB will store a trillion spreadsheets so who would want more disk space? Can't help with the last problem but downloading data in GRIB files can be made faster.

Often people only need a few fields from a GRIB file. For example, the GFS forecasts contain over 600 fields per forecast time. Many people are only interested in a few fields such as the precipitation or 500 mb heights. Assuming we only wanted two fields, downloading 600+ fields to get two fields is just silly.

If You are Lucky, it is Simple

Some datasets have pre-configured scripts to download the data. See Part 2 for more information.


The http protocol allows "random access" reading; however, that means that we need an index file and a http program that supports random access. For the index file, we can modify a wgrib2 inventory. For the random-access http(s) program, we can use cURL. Both are freely available, widely used, work on many platforms and are easily scripted/automated/put into a cronjob.

The basic format of the quick download is, INV_URL | grep (options) FIELDS | GRIB_URL OUTPUT
   INV_URL is the URL of a wgrib/wgrib2 inventory
   grep (options) FIELDS selects the desired fields (wgrib compatible)
       ex. grep -F ":HGT:500 mb:" selects ":HGT:500 mb"
       ex. grep -E ":(HGT|TMP):500 mb:" selects ":HGT:500 mb:" and ":TMP:500 mb:"
   GRIB_URL is the URL of the grib file
   OUTPUT is the name of the for the downloaded grib file

The " INV_URL" downloads the wgrib inventory off the net and adds a range field. The "grep FIELDS" uses the grep command to select desired fields from the inventory. Use of the "grep FIELDS" is similar to the procedure used when using wgrib/wgrib2 to extract fields. The " GRIB_URL OUTPUT" uses the filtered inventory to select the fields from GRIB_URL to download. The selected fields are saved in OUTPUT.

Examples | \
grep ":HGT:500 mb:" | \ out.grb
The above example can be written on one line without the back slashes. (Back slashes are the unix convention indicating the line is continued on the next line.) The example downloads the the 500 mb height from the 12 hour (f12) from the 00Z (t00z) GFS fcst from the NCEP NOMAD2 server. | \
egrep "(:HGT:500 mb:|:TMP:1000 mb:)" | \ out.grb
The above example is similar to the earlier example except it downloads both the 500 mb height and the 1000 mb temperature.
Warning: Metacharacters

In the beginning, you could filter the inventory with strings like

  egrep ":(UGRD|VGRD|TMP|HGT):(1000|500|200) mb:"
  egrep "(:UGRD:200 mb:|:TMP:2 m above ground:)"
First egrep was deprecated and was replaced by "grep -E". No big deal. Then someone decided to put egrep wildcards into the official level information. Imagine trying to do
  grep -E "(:UGRD:200 mb:|:HGT:PV=2e-06 (Km^2/kg/s) surface:)"
You see the problem. The HGT level field contains "(" and ")". To get rid of the special meaning of "(" and ")", they should be quote by \( and \). The caret "^" also has a special meaning and should be quoted too. The fixed line is
  grep -E "(:UGRD:200 mb:|:HGT:PV=2e-06 \(Km\^2/kg/s\) surface:)"
You should backquote all the regex metacharacters including
Sample Script

Here is an example of downloading a year of R2 data.

# simple script to download 4x daily V winds at 10mb
# from the R2 archive

set -x
while [ $date -le $enddate ]
     url="$date" "${url}.inv" | grep ":VGRD:" | grep ":10 mb" | \ "${url}" pgb.$date
     date=$(($date + 1))
     if [ $(($date % 100)) -eq 13 ] ; then
         date=$(($date - 12 + 100));
  1. perl
  2. grep
  3. cURL
  4. grib files and their wgrib inventory on an http server
Configuration (UNIX/Linux)
The first two lines of and need to be modified. The first line should point to your perl interpreter. The second line needs to point to the location of curl if it is not on your path.

Usage: Windows

There have been some reports that the perl scripts didn't work on Windows machines. The problem was solved by Alexander Ryan.
Hi Wesley,

thought this might be of some use to your win32 users.

I had the following problem when running the file as per your instructions.

run this
grep ":UGRD:" < my_inv | $URL ugrd.grb
and I would get the error No download! No matching grib fields. on further
investigation I found that it was just skipping the while STDIN part of the
code. a few google searches later and I found that for some strange reason in
the pipe I needed to specify the path or command for perl even though the file
associations for .pl are set up. (don't fiqure)

this works for me

grep ":UGRD:" < my_inv | PERL $URL ugrd.grb

Regards and thanks for the fine service
Alexander Ryan

Another email from Alexander

Hi Wesley,
Further to my last email here are some details regarding the enviorment I run this all on for your referance.

My computer is P4 1.7GHz with 1Gb Ram running Windows 2000 service pack 4
Perl version :V5.6.1 provided by
cUrl Version: 7.15.4 from
grep & egrep: win32 versions of grep and egrep, I found both at who provide some useful ports of common GNU utilities to native Win32. (no cygwin required)

so far this is working fine

Regards Alexander

Apparently, INV_URL | grep FIELDS | perl URL OUTPUT
should work. Linux users probably will gravitate towards the cygwin system because it includes bash, an X-server, compilers and the usual unix tools.

If you want to download multiple fields, for example, precipitation and 2 meter temperature, you can type,  
     URL="" $URL.idx | egrep ':(PRATE|TMP:2 m above gnd):' | $URL out
The above code will put the precipiation and 2-m temp in the file out. Of course, egrep understands regular expressions which is a very powerful feature.

If you are doing multiple downloads from the same file, you can save time by keeping a local copy of the inventory. For example,
     URL="" $URL.idx > my_inv
     grep ":UGRD:" < my_inv | $URL ugrd.grb
     grep ":VGRD:" < my_inv | $URL vgrd.grb
     grep ":TMP:" < my_inv | $URL tmp.grb
The above code saves two extra downloads of the inventory.  

Some people have slow internet connections. A user was complaining about bad downloads. Turns out that the user was using a modem and cURL was "timing out". The user solved the problem by adding the following options to the cURL command "-y 30 -Y 30" which are found within and The options tell curl to only "time out" when the download rate is less than 30 bytes per second for 30 seconds. Glad I don't have to use a modem.

Notes for Data Providers

The grib data needs to accessable be on an http server. Often this is a minor change in the httpd configuration.

The users will need a wgrib inventory (grib-1) or a wgrib2 inventory (grib-2). It is convenient if the inventory is in the same directory as the data files and uses the '.inv' suffix convention. The inventory can be created by,
     GRIB-1: wgrib -s grib_file > grib_file.inv  
     GRIB-2: wgrib2 -s grib_file > grib_file.inv


Grib-2 has been supported since the summer of 2006.


In theory, curl allows random access to FTP servers but in practice we found this to be slow (each random access is its own FTP session). Support for the FTP access was dropped 2/2005 because we want data providers to use the faster http protocol.

Regional Subsetting

The need for regional subsetting grows as the grids get finer and finer. With grib2, it may be possible to do regional subsetting on the client side but that would be some tricky coding if possible. Right now, I am happy with the g2subset software that is running on the nomads servers. This server software is faster than the grib1 software (ftp2u/ftp4u) even with the overhead of the jpeg2000 decompression.

Created: 1/21/2005, modified 6/2017 information, modified 9/2020 to remove the news about https

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