The Xinjiang province of China is vulnerable to drought, but the occurrence of drought varies substantially among different sub-areas. This study investigated drought characteristics in Xinjiang province and its sub-area using the Mann–Kendall trend test, cluster analysis and Morlet wavelet analysis. The results show that drought in Xinjiang is generally becoming less severe, and there is a non-uniform spatial variation of drought, which is especially pronounced for stations in northern Xinjiang. There is a unique spatiotemporal distribution trend of drought in Xinjiang, and the inter-decadal variation of drought shows a gradual shift from the east to the west and then back to the east again over the past 55 years. Northern Xinjiang is becoming wetter at a faster rate compared with that of southern Xinjiang, and it also has a higher occurrence of change point sites (70%). The historical drought situation in Xinjiang is better characterized by three clusters. Cluster 1 is the driest, cluster 2 has a clear alleviating tendency of drought, while cluster 3 shows late occurrence of change point. A broader view of the accumulated variation of drought is formulated in this study, which may help to identify potential droughts to support drought disaster management and mitigation.

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