This paper analyses the observed spatiotemporal characteristics of drought phenomenon in Syria using the Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI) and the Standardised Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI). Temporal variability of drought is calculated for various time scales (3, 6, 9, 12, and 24 months) for 20 weather stations over the 1961–2012 period. The spatial patterns of drought were identified by applying a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) to the SPI and SPEI values at different time scales. The results revealed three heterogeneous and spatially well-defined regions with different temporal evolution of droughts: 1) Northeastern (inland desert); 2) Southern (mountainous landscape); 3) Northwestern (Mediterranean coast). The evolutionary characteristics of drought during 1961–2012 were analysed including spatial and temporal variability of SPI and SPEI, the frequency distribution, and the drought duration. The results of the non-parametric Mann–Kendall test applied to the SPI and SPEI series indicate prevailing significant negative trends (drought) at all stations. Both drought indices have been correlated both on spatial and temporal scales and they are highly comparable, especially, over a 12 and 24 month accumulation period. We concluded that the temporal and spatial characteristics of the SPI and SPEI can be used for developing a drought intensity - areal extent - and frequency curve that assesses the variability of regional droughts in Syria. The analysis of both indices suggests that all three regions had a severe drought in the 1990s, which had never been observed before in the country. Furthermore, the 2007–2010 drought was the driest period in the instrumental record, happening just before the onset of the recent conflict in Syria.
Keywords: Climate regionalization, Drought, SPEI, SPI, Syrian conflict