As part of the World Climate Research Program's (WCRPs) Global Energy and Water-Cycle Experiment (GEWEX) Continental-scale International Project (GCIP), a preliminary water and energy budget synthesis (WEBS) was developed for the period 1996-1999 from the best available'' observations and models. Besides this summary paper, a companion CD-ROM with more extensive discussion, figures, tables, and raw data is available to the interested researcher from the GEWEX project office, the GAPP project office, or the first author. An updated online version of the CD-ROM is also available at http://ecpc.ucsd.edu/gcip/webs.htm/. Observations cannot adequately characterize or close'' budgets since too many fundamental processes are missing. Models that properly represent the many complicated atmospheric and near-surface interactions are also required. This preliminary synthesis therefore included a representative global general circulation model, regional climate model, and a macroscale hydrologic model as well as a global reanalysis and a regional analysis. By the qualitative agreement among the models and available observations, it did appear that we now qualitatively understand water and energy budgets of the Mississippi River Basin. However, there is still much quantitative uncertainty. In that regard, there did appear to be a clear advantage to using a regional analysis over a global analysis or a regional simulation over a global simulation to describe the Mississippi River Basin water and energy budgets. There also appeared to be some advantage to using a macroscale hydrologic model for at least the surface water budgets.