This special issue is the result of several fruitful conference sessions on disturbance hydrology, which started at the 2013 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco and have continued every year since. The stimulating presentations and discussions surrounding those sessions have focused on understanding both the disruption of hydrologic functioning following discrete disturbances, as well as the subsequent recovery or change within the affected watershed system. Whereas some hydrologic disturbances are directly linked to anthropogenic activities, such as resource extraction, the contributions to this special issue focus primarily on those with indirect or less pronounced human involvement, such as bark-beetle infestation, wildfire, and other natural hazards. However, human activities are enhancing the severity and frequency of these seemingly natural disturbances, thereby contributing to acute hydrologic problems and hazards. Major research challenges for our increasingly disturbed planet include the lack of continuous pre- and post-disturbance monitoring, hydrologic impacts that vary spatially and temporally based on environmental and hydroclimatic conditions, and the preponderance of overlapping or compounding disturbance sequences. In addition, a conceptual framework for characterizing commonalities and differences among hydrologic disturbances is still in its infancy. In this introduction to the special issue, we advance the fusion of concepts and terminology from ecology and hydrology to begin filling this gap. We briefly explore some preliminary approaches for comparing different disturbances and their hydrologic impacts, which provides a starting point for further dialogue and research progress.