Drought is a natural extreme climate event which occurs in most parts of the world. Northeastern China is one of the major agricultural production areas in China and also a typical vulnerable climate zone. To understand the spatio-temporal characteristics of drought over northeastern China, we first assessed the trends of precipitation and temperature. Drought events were then characterized by Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index over various temporal scales. The Trend Free Prewhitening Mann–Kendall test and distinct empirical orthogonal function, were used to investigate the trends and spatio-temporal patterns of droughts. The results indicate precipitation increasing trends are mostly detected in Heilongjiang and Jinling provinces, however, the majority of the trends are insignificant. Temperature increasing trends are detected over the entire northeastern China and most of them are significant. Decreasing drought trends are observed in Heilongjiang province and some bordering area in Jilin province, whereas increasing trends are noticed in Liaoning province and some bordering area in Jilin province. Two main sub-regions of drought variability—the Liaohe River Plain and the Second Songhua River basin (LS region), and the Songnen Plain and the Lesser Hinggan Mountains (SL region) are identified, and the detected droughts for the two sub-regions correspond well with recorded drought loss. The results will be beneficial for regional water resource management and planning, agriculture production, and ecosystem protection in northeastern China.
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