||Changes in potential evapotranspiration and surface runoff can have profound implications for hydrological processes in arid and semiarid regions. In this study, we investigated the response of hydrological processes to climate change in Upper Heihe River Basin in Northwest China for the period from 1981 to 2010. We used agronomic, climatic and hydrological data to drive the Soil and Water Assessment Tool model for changes in potential evapotranspiration (ET0) and surface runoff and the driving factors in the study area. The results showed that increasing autumn temperature increased snow melt, resulting in increased surface runoff, especially in September and October. The spatial distribution of annual runoff was different from that of seasonal runoff, with the highest runoff in Yeniugou River, followed by Babaohe River and then the tributaries in the northern of the basin. There was no evaporation paradox at annual and seasonal time scales, and annual ET0 was driven mainly by wind speed. ET0 was driven by relative humidity in spring, sunshine hour duration in autumn and both sunshine hour duration and relative humility in summer. Surface runoff was controlled by temperature in spring and winter and by precipitation in summer (flood season). Although surface runoff increased in autumn with increasing temperature, it depended on rainfall in September and on temperature in October and November. Copyright (C) 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.