Since March 2002, the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) has provided first estimates of land water storage variations by monitoring the time-variable component of Earth's gravity field. Here we characterize spatial-temporal variations in terrestrial water storage changes (TWSC) from GRACE and compare them to those simulated with the Global Land Data Assimilation System (GLDAS). Additionally, we use GLDAS simulations to infer how TWSC is partitioned into snow, canopy water and soil water components, and to understand how variations in the hydrologic fluxes act to enhance or dissipate the stores. Results quantify the range of GRACE-derived storage changes during the studied period and place them in the context of seasonal variations in global climate and hydrologic extremes including drought and flood, by impacting land memory processes. The role of the largest continental river basins as major locations for freshwater redistribution is highlighted. GRACE-based storage changes are in good agreement with those obtained from GLDAS simulations. Analysis of GLDAS-simulated TWSC illustrates several key characteristics of spatial and temporal land water storage variations. Global averages of TWSC were partitioned nearly equally between soil moisture and snow water equivalent, while zonal averages of TWSC revealed the importance of soil moisture storage at low latitudes and snow storage at high latitudes. Evapotranspiration plays a key role in dissipating globally averaged terrestrial water storage. Latitudinal averages showed how precipitation dominates TWSC variations in the tropics, evapotranspiration is most effective in the midlatitudes, and snowmelt runoff is a key dissipating flux at high latitudes. Results have implications for monitoring water storage response to climate variability and change, and for constraining land model hydrology simulations.