In this study, the patterns of past and future drought occurrences in the Seoul region were analysed using observed historical data from the Seoul weather station located in the Korean Peninsula and four different types of general circulation models (GCMs), namely, GFDL:CM2_1, CONS:ECHO-G, MRI:CGCM2_3_2 and UKMO:HADGEM1. To analyse statistical properties such as drought frequency duration and return period, the Standardized Precipitation Index was used to derive the severity–duration–frequency (SDF) curve from the drought frequency analysis. In addition, a drought spell analysis was conducted to estimate the frequency and change of drought duration for each drought classification. The results of the analysis suggested a decrease in the frequency of mild droughts and an increase in the frequency of severe and extreme droughts in the future. Furthermore, the average duration of droughts is expected to increase. A comparison of the SDF relationship derived from the observed data with that derived via the GCMs indicated that the drought severity for each return period was reduced as drought duration increased and that the drought severity derived from the GCMs was severer than the severity obtained using the observed data for the same duration and return period. Furthermore, among the four types of GCMs used in this study, the MRI model predicted the most severe future drought for the Seoul region, and the SDF curve derived using the MRI model also resulted in the highest degree of drought severity compared with the other GCMs. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.