The objective of the present study is to characterize the drought occurrences in a region comprising Paraguay, southern Brazil and northeastern Argentina. To recognize the drought occurrences the standardized precipitation index at the time-scales of 3 and 6 months was applied to the rainfall records from 1961 to 2011 at 51 rain gauges located in that region. After a drought regionalization using principal component analysis, a new approach, the Kernel occurrence rate estimation method coupled with bootstrap confidence band was used to quantify yearly drought occurrence rates. The study also includes the results of an additional and new approach based on rainfall threshold surfaces aimed at recognizing and monitoring the drought occurrence at the early stages of their development. For both time-scales, the study allowed identification of some spatial homogeneous regions regarding the severe droughts. In some of those regions, trends in the severe drought frequency occurrence were identified. The rainfall threshold surfaces, besides providing an adequate interpretation of the meaning of the standard precipitation index, can be quite easily and reliably utilized to identify the drought episodes.