A climatological examination of the global water vapor field based on a multiyear period of successful satellite-based observations is presented. Results from the multiyear global ISCCP TOVS water vapor dataset as operationally produced by NESDIS and ISCCP are shown. The methods employed for the retrieval of precipitable water content (PWC) utilize infrared measurements collected by the TOVS instrument package flown aboard the NOAA series of operational polar-orbiting satellites. Strengths of this dataset include the nearly global daily coverage, availability for a multiyear period, operational internal quality checks, and its description of important features in the mean state of the atmosphere. Weaknesses of this PWC dataset include that the infrared sensors are unable to collect data in cloudy regions, the retrievals are strongly biased toward a land-based radiosonde first-guess dataset, and the description of high spatial and temporal variability is inadequate. Primary consequences of these factors are seen in the underestimation of ITCZ water vapor maxima, and underestimation of midlatitude water vapor mean and standard deviation values where transient atmospheric phenomena contribute significantly toward time means. A comparison of TOVS analyses to SSM/I data over ocean for the month of July 1988 shows fair agreement in the magnitude and distribution of the monthly mean values, but the TOVS fields exhibit much less temporal and spatial variability on a daily basis in comparison to the SSM/I analyses. The emphasis of this paper is on the presentation and documentation of an early satellite-based water vapor climatology, and description of factors that prevent a more accurate representation of the global water vapor field.