Summary Impacts of a drought are generally dependent on the severity of the hydrological drought event, which can be expressed by streamflow drought duration or deficit volume. For prediction and the selection of drought sensitive regions, it is crucial to know how streamflow drought severity relates to climate and catchment characteristics. In this study we investigated controls on drought severity based on a comprehensive Austrian dataset consisting of 44 catchments with long time series of hydrometeorological data (on average around 50 year) and information on a large number of physiographic catchment characteristics. Drought analysis was performed with the variable threshold level method and various statistical tools were applied, i.e. bivariate correlation analysis, heatmaps, linear models based on multiple regression, varying slope models, and automatic stepwise regression. Results indicate that streamflow drought duration is primarily controlled by storage, quantified by the Base Flow Index or by a combination of catchment characteristics related to catchment storage and release, e.g. geology and land use. Additionally, the duration of dry spells in precipitation is important for streamflow drought duration. Hydrological drought deficit, however, is governed by average catchment wetness (represented by mean annual precipitation) and elevation (reflecting seasonal storage in the snow pack and glaciers). Our conclusion is that both drought duration and deficit are governed by a combination of climate and catchment control, but not in a similar way. Besides meteorological forcing, storage is important; storage in soils, aquifers, lakes, etc. influences drought duration and seasonal storage in snow and glaciers influences drought deficit. Consequently, the spatial variation of hydrological drought severity is highly dependent on terrestrial hydrological processes.