Climate variability is an important stress factor for rural livelihoods in most developing countries where households have been adapting to environmental shocks for decades. Climate change results in increased variability and poses new challenges for rural livelihoods, as well as for policymakers in adjusting policies to changing conditions. This paper examines the potential relationships between rainfall data and household self-reported harvest shocks and local (spatial) variability of harvest shocks and coping strategies based on a survey of 2,700 rural households in the Kagera region of northern Tanzania. The results show that rainfall patterns in the region are very location-specific and that the distribution of household reported harvest shocks differs significantly between districts and correspond to the observed variability in local climate patterns. Coping strategies are focused on spreading risks and include reduced consumption, casual employment, new crops, external support and the selling of assets. There are no large differences in applied coping strategies across the region, but district-level data demonstrate how local strategies differ between localities within the districts. The results emphasize that in order to target rural policies and make them efficient, it is important to take into account the local conditions that rural households face when experiencing climate-related shocks. Finally, shocks reported by households appear to correspond well with observed variability in rainfall patterns.