Effective monitoring and prediction of flood and drought events requires an improved understanding of how and why surface water expansion and contraction in response to climate varies across space. This paper sought to (1) quantify how interannual patterns of surface water expansion and contraction vary spatially across the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) and adjacent Northern Prairie (NP) in the United States, and (2) explore how landscape characteristics influence the relationship between climate inputs and surface water dynamics. Due to differences in glacial history, the PPR and NP show distinct patterns in regards to drainage development and wetland density, together providing a diversity of conditions to examine surface water dynamics. We used Landsat imagery to characterize variability in surface water extent across 11 Landsat path/rows representing the PPR and NP (images spanned 1985–2015). The PPR not only experienced a 2.6-fold greater surface water extent under median conditions relative to the NP, but also showed a 3.4-fold greater change in surface water extent between drought and deluge conditions. The relationship between surface water extent and accumulated water availability (precipitation minus potential evapotranspiration) was quantified per watershed and statistically related to variables representing hydrology-related landscape characteristics (e.g., infiltration capacity, surface storage capacity, stream density). To investigate the influence stream connectivity has on the rate at which surface water leaves a given location, we modeled stream-connected and stream-disconnected surface water separately. Stream-connected surface water showed a greater expansion with wetter climatic conditions in landscapes with greater total wetland area, but lower total wetland density. Disconnected surface water showed a greater expansion with wetter climatic conditions in landscapes with higher wetland density, lower infiltration and less anthropogenic drainage. From these findings, we can expect that shifts in precipitation and evaporative demand will have uneven effects on surface water quantity. Accurate predictions regarding the effect of climate change on surface water quantity will require consideration of hydrology-related landscape characteristics including wetland storage and arrangement.