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HOME > Monitoring_and_Data > Oceanic and Atmospheric Data > Reanalysis: Atmospheric Data > wgrib2-rpn

wgrib2: -rpn


The -rpn option runs a reverse polish notation (RPN) calculator. Having a built-in calculator is quite handy. We use it to convert units (ex. geopotential to geopotential meters, accumulations to rates), compute simple quantities (net flux from downward and upward fluxes), and even the plant hardiness index from the 2 m temperatures. The goal of the calculator is to reduce the need to write simple fortran programs that handle grib2 files.

The "hardware" of the rpn calculator consists of 10 registers and a stack (10 entries deep). Each register and stack entry is an array which is the same size as the current grid size being processed. So the main difference between the e -rpn calculator and a store-bought calculator is that you are working with arrays and the top of the stack is initialized with the array of grid values from the current grib message.

The 10 registers (0..9) are initialized when wgrib2 is started. The stack is different, it gets initialized every time the -rpn option is run. First the stack is cleared and the grid values (originally from currently processed grib message) is pushed onto the top of the stack. At the end of the the -rpn option, the top of the stack is saved in the grid values unless the stack has been emptied. To save the calculations, you can save them in a register or write them out by -grib_out, -bin, -ieee, -text, etc.


  • change of units when importing data (gribifying data)
  • computations: ex, U,V -> wind speed, wind direction, potential temperature
  • merging data
  • complex masking of data
  • changing units before writing text/ieee files
  • removing extreme data values
  • finding min and max values
  • finding the globally averaged precipitation
  • comparing fields


-rpn  "A:B:C:..."
    A,B,C,.. = number, function, or operator

Operators and Functions:

Pop X, Push Fn(X)
  • abs: absolute value
  • acos: arc cos, [0, pi] radians
  • alt_x_scan: changes alternate x scanning to regular x scanning and vice versa
  • asin: arc sin, result is [-pi/2, pi/2] radians
  • atan: arc tan, result is [-pi/2, pi/2] radians, see atan2
  • abs: absolute value
  • ceil: smallest integer >= X
  • cos: cosine, argument in radians
  • exp: e^X
  • floor: largest integer <= X
  • ln: natural logorithm
  • sin: sine, argument in radians
  • smth9g: smth9 for global fields
  • smth9r: snth9 for regional fields
  • sq: X*X
  • sqrt: square root
  • tan: tangent, argument in radians
  • xave: for nx-ny grids, averages in the x direction (normally zonal mean)
  • xdev: for nx-ny grids, remove x average (normally deviation from zonal mean)
  • yrev: for nx-ny grids, changes we:sn to we:ns and vice versa
  • 1/x: 1/X
Pop Y, Pop X, push Fn(X,Y)
  • +: push X+Y
  • -: push X-Y
  • *: push X*Y
  • /: push X/Y
  • <: push X < Y (1/0 if true/false)
  • <=: push X <= Y (1/0 if true/false)
  • ==: push X == Y (1/0 if true/false)
  • !=: push X != Y (1/0 if true/false)
  • >=: push X >= Y (1/0 if true/false)
  • >: push X > Y (1/0 if true/false)
  • atan2: push arctan(X/Y), result is [-pi, pi] radians, see atan
  • pow: push X**Y (X^Y)
  • mask: if (Y != 0) push(X) else push(UNDEFINED)
  • max: push max(X,Y)
  • merge: if (Y != UNDEFINED) push(Y) else push(X)
  • min: push min(X,Y)
Note: an operation involving an UNDEFINED is UNDEFINED
Stack Operators:
  • clr, clear the stack (stack is emptied)
  • dup, duplicate the top of the stack
  • pop, remove the top of the stack
  • exc/swap, exchange the top 2 stack entries
Register Operators:
  • clr_I, clear register I, I=0,1..,9
  • rcl_I, push register I on top of stack, I=0,1..,9
  • sto_I, save top of stack in register I, I=0,1..,9
  • rcl_lat, push latitudes onto the top of the stack (degrees)
  • rcl_lon, push longitudes onto the top of the stack (degrees)
Variables and Constants: put on the top of the stack
  • number number = floating point or integer number like 0, 10.1, -1.23e-4
  • days_in_ref_month number of days in the month for the reference date (conversion between monthly acc. and rates)
  • days_in_verf_month number of days in the month for the verification time (conversion betwee monthly acc. and rates)
  • pi 3.1415....
  • rand random number uniformly distributed between 0 and 1, each grid point has a different random number
Printing Operators:
  • print_corr, write cosine weighted spatial correlation, data[TOP] data[TOP-1]
  • print_max, print_min, data[TOP]
  • print_rms, write cosine weighted RMS, data[TOP]-data[TOP-1]
  • print_diff, write cosine weighted difference, data[TOP-1]-data[TOP]
  • print_ave, write cosine weighted average, grid_ave(data[TOP]*cos(grid))/grid_ave(cos(grid))
  • print_wt_ave, write weighted average grid_ave, data[TOP] is the weighting print grid_ave(data[TOP]*data[TOP-1])/grid_ave(data[TOP])


The standard units of grib temperature is K but you want the text output in Celcius.

$ wgrib2 a.grb -match ":TMP:850 mb:" -rpn "273.15:-" -text C.dat

Fahrenheit is easy too (F = (K-273.15)*9/5+32).

$ wgrib2 a.grb -match ":TMP:850 mb:" -rpn "273.15:-:9:*:5:/:32:+" -text F.dat

Suppose you want to limit the relative humidity values to 100. This example only affect the RH fields. All submessages will be converted into messages.

$ wgrib2 a.grb -if ":RH:" -rpn "100:min" -fi -grib_out out.grb -not_if ":RH:" -grib out.grb

Write out the 500 mb wind speed.

$ wgrib2 a.grb -match ":[UV]grd:500 mb:" \
     -if ":UGRD:" -rpn "sto_1" -fi \
     -if ":VGRD:" -rpn "sto_2" -fi \
     -if_reg 1:2 \
         -rpn "rcl_1:sq:rcl_2:sq:+:sqrt:clr_1:clr_2" \
         -set_var WIND \
         -grib_out out.grb

     line 1: only process the U and V at 500 mb
     line 2: store U 500mb in register 1
     line 3: store V 500mb in register 2
     line 4: if (register 1 and register 2 have values then
     line 5: calculate the wind speed: sqrt(reg_1**2 + reg_2**2)
     line 6: set variable time to WIND (wind speed)
     line 7: write out the WIND data to a grib file

     Note: this is a very simple script and that doesn't check the matching
     date code, grid type, etc.

     Note: there are options to calculate wind speed and wind direction

Suppose someone made a mistake and the latent heat flux (LHTFL) had the wrong sign. RPN to the rescue.

$ wgrib2 a.grb -match ":LHTFL:" -rpn "-1:*" -grib_out new_lhtfl.grb
You could fix the entire file by
$ wgrib2 a.grb -if ":LHTFL:" -rpn "-1:*" -fi -grib_out new.grb
It would be faster if you only compressed the LHTFL fields. (-grib uses the original compressed data and -grib_out uses the "data" register.)
$ wgrib2 a.grb -set_grib_type jpeg \
   -not_if ":LHTFL:" -grib new.grb -if ":LHTFL:" -grib_out new.grb
If both the latent and sensible heat fluxes needed a sign reversal, you could do,
$ wgrib2 a.grb -if ":(LHTFL|SHTFL):" -rpn "-1:*" -fi -grib_out new.grb
If you want to set certain values to undefined, you define a mask and then apply the mask. In this example, values below 20 are set to undefined.
$ wgrib2 a.grb -rpn "dup:20:>=:mask" -grib_out -set_grib_type c3 new.grb 

The RPN calculator is used:
    dup       the data is duplicated
    20        20 is pushed on the stack
    >=        test data >= 20, top of stack is 1/0 depending on test >= 20
    mask      apply mask to the data

-set_grib_type c3    sets the grib compression to complex3
-grib_out new.grb    writes a grib message using the decoded data
Don't forget to enclose the argument to rpn in quotes because the shell can do unexpect things. Printing operators
print_corr write cosine weighted spatial correlation R(TOP-1), R(TOP)
print_max write max(R(TOP)) to stdout
print_min write min(R(TOP)) to stdout
print_rms write cosine weighted RMS(R(TOP-1)-R(TOP))

Another example: dewpoint, total-total index

An example of calculating the dewpoint and total-total index is more involved. Using an on-line infix to postfix (reverse polish) calculator is helpful.

Yet another example: global precipitation

The model has the precipitation in the variable PRATE which has units of mm/sec (assuming 1 gm H2O = 1cc). Suppose I wanted the globally averaged precip in the non-metric unit of mm/day. It's one command away

  wgrib2 gfsfile -match PRATE -s -rpn "86400:*" -stats


Warning: Reverse Polish notation can cause headaches if you try something too complicated. An infix -> postfix calculator is the suggested remedy.

The -rpn option is a piece of easy to understand and modify code (RPN.c). If you want to add a specialized function (ex. wind chill calculation), you many consider adding it to the RPN calculator. Rewritting the code as a regular calculator wouldn't be that hard either.

See also: -if, -if_reg, -fi, -grib_out,

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Page last modified: Nov 20, 2015
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