Monthly climatic data from 53 sites across Xinjiang, China, were used to compare drought severity from the widely accepted Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) with the recently proposed Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI), as well as trends in the data from 1961 to 2013. Monthly Thornthwaite based (ETo.TW) and Penman-Monteith based reference evapotranspiration (ETo.PM) were computed and subsequently used to estimate SPEITW and SPEIPM, respectively. The indices' sensitivity, spatiotemporal distributions and trends were analyzed. The results showed that the TW equation underestimated ETo, which affected the accuracy of the SPEI estimation. Greater consistency was found between SPI and SPEIPM than between SPI and SPEITW at different timescales. SPI and SPEIPM were sensitive to precipitation, but SPEITW and SPEIPM were insensitive to ETo. The scope of spatial SPEIPM was wider than that of SPI at the same timescale. Obvious differences in SPI, SPEITW and SPEIPM existed between northern and southern Xinjiang. SPEIPM was a better indicator of global warming than SPI. Both SPI and SPEIPM had increasing trends, which contradict previously reported trends in global drought. In conclusion, the decrease in drought severity observed over the last 53 years may indicate some relief in the water utilization crisis in Xinjiang, China.

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