The co-variability of monthly mean surface temperature and precipitation is determined globally for 1979–2002 from observationally-based analyses (ERA-40) for surface air temperature and the Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP) version 2 for precipitation and compared with results from the NCAR Community Atmospheric Model version 3 (CAM3) and Community Climate System Model version 3 (CCSM3). Results are combined for the 5 months for northern winter (November to March) and summer (May to September). Over land, negative correlations dominate, as dry conditions favor more sunshine and less evaporative cooling, while wet summers are cool. At high latitudes in winter, positive correlations dominate as warm moist advection in extratropical cyclones favors precipitation and the water holding capacity of the atmosphere limits precipitation amounts in cold conditions. Where ocean conditions drive the atmosphere, higher surface air temperatures are associated with precipitation, as in El Niño, but some areas, such as the western Pacific in northern summer, feature negative correlations indicating that the atmosphere determines the surface temperatures. In the CAM driven with observed sea surface temperatures and the CCSM in fully coupled mode the latter mechanism is largely absent, and correlations are generally much stronger than observed, indicating more local control. Neither temperature nor precipitation records should be interpreted without considering the strong covariability that exists.