Intensity–duration–frequency (IDF) curves are widely used to quantify the probability of occurrence of rainfall extremes. The usual rain gauge-based approach provides accurate curves for a specific location, but uncertainties arise when ungauged regions are examined or catchment-scale information is required. Remote sensing rainfall records, e.g. from weather radars and satellites, are recently becoming available, providing high-resolution estimates at regional or even global scales; their uncertainty and implications on water resources applications urge to be investigated. This study compares IDF curves from radar and satellite (CMORPH) estimates over the eastern Mediterranean (covering Mediterranean, semiarid, and arid climates) and quantifies the uncertainty related to their limited record on varying climates. We show that radar identifies thicker-tailed distributions than satellite, in particular for short durations, and that the tail of the distributions depends on the spatial and temporal aggregation scales. The spatial correlation between radar IDF and satellite IDF is as high as 0.7 for 2–5-year return period and decreases with longer return periods, especially for short durations. The uncertainty related to the use of short records is important when the record length is comparable to the return period ( ∼ 50, ∼ 100, and ∼ 150 % for Mediterranean, semiarid, and arid climates, respectively). The agreement between IDF curves derived from different sensors on Mediterranean and, to a good extent, semiarid climates, demonstrates the potential of remote sensing datasets and instils confidence on their quantitative use for ungauged areas of the Earth.