Simulations of humidity from 28 general circulation models for the period 1979-88 from the Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project are compared with observations from radiosondes over North America and the globe and with satellite microwave observations over the Pacific basin. The simulations of decadal mean values of precipitable water (W) integrated over each of these regions tend to be less moist than the real atmosphere in all three cases; the median model values are approximately 5% less than the observed values. The spread among the simulations is larger over regions of high terrain, which suggests that differences in methods of resolving topographic features are important. The mean elevation of the North American continent is substantially higher in the models than is observed, which may contribute to the overall dry bias of the models over that area. The authors do not find a clear association between the mean topography of a model and its mean W simulation, however. which suggests that the bias over land is not purely a matter of orography. The seasonal cycle of W is reasonably well simulated by the models, although over North America they have a tendency to become moister more quickly in the spring than is observed. The interannual component of the variability of W is not well captured by the models over North America. Globally, the simulated W values show a signal correlated with the Southern Oscillation index but the observations do not. This discrepancy may be related to deficiencies in the radiosonde network, which does not sample the tropical ocean regions well. Overall, the interannual variability of W, as well as its climatology and mean seasonal cycle, are better described by the median of the 28 simulations than by individual members of the ensemble. Tests to learn whether simulated precipitable water, evaporation, and precipitation values may be related to aspects of model formulation yield few clear signals, although the authors find, for example, a tendency for the few models that predict boundary layer depth to have large values of evaporation and precipitation. Controlled experiments, in which aspects of model architecture are systematically varied within individual models, may be necessary to elucidate whether and how model characteristics influence simulations.