Droughts tend to evolve slowly and affect large areas simultaneously, which suggests that improved understanding of spatial coherence of drought would enable better mitigation of drought impacts through enhanced monitoring and forecasting strategies. This study employs an up-to-date dataset of over 500 river flow time series from 11 European countries, along with a gridded precipitation dataset, to examine the spatial coherence of drought in Europe using regional indicators of precipitation and streamflow deficit. The drought indicators were generated for 24 homogeneous regions and, for selected regions, historical drought characteristics were corroborated with previous work. The spatial coherence of drought characteristics was then examined at a European scale. Historical droughts generally have distinctive signatures in their spatio-temporal development, so there was limited scope for using the evolution of historical events to inform forecasting. Rather, relationships were explored in time series of drought indicators between regions. Correlations were generally low, but multivariate analyses revealed broad continental-scale patterns, which appear to be related to large-scale atmospheric circulation indices (in particular, the North Atlantic Oscillation and the East Atlantic–West Russia pattern). A novel methodology for forecasting was developed (and demonstrated with reference to the United Kingdom), which predicts ‘drought from drought’—i.e. uses spatial coherence of drought to facilitate early warning of drought in a target region, from drought which is developing elsewhere in Europe. Whilst the skill of the methodology is relatively modest at present, this approach presents a potential new avenue for forecasting, which offers significant advantages in that it allows prediction for all seasons, and also shows some potential for forecasting the termination of drought conditions. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.