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Best of 2013: A dozen reader-favourite stories

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Sunday, December 29, 2013, 8:06 PM -

You've likely caught a glimpse of our top 10 weather stories airing on TV this season. 

From the massive ice storm in eastern Canada a week ago, to the catastrophic flooding in Calgary, to the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan, the world's weather was not idle in 2013.

But while the weather is, of course, our bread and butter here at The Weather Network, it's nowhere near the ONLY thing our readers are interested in.

We've put together this list of strange and off-beat stories that proved VERY popular with visitors to our website over the past year.  

Sinkhole swallows golfer

It took every ounce of self control in our possession not to lead this entry off with some kind of hole-in-one joke.

Stories about sinkholes tend to be one of our most popular news topics, and this one was no different. Mark Mihal, a 43-year-old mortgage broker, was enjoying a round of golf in Illinois when he temporarily vanished off the face of the Earth.

Aside from dislocating his shoulder, he was fine, though trapped at the bottom of a six-metre sinkhole for about 20 minutes before workers at the golf course got him out using a ladder and a rope.

It could have been much worse. Sinkholes can be destructive and deadly. This one opened up beneath a 36-year-old man’s bedroom in Florida, sending him tumbling to his death.

Boulder almost crushes car

Landslides are a common problem in areas regularly afflicted with tropical storms, and this driver in Taiwan almost encountered a deadly one.

That boulder that tumbled down the hill is easily larger than the car itself, and it’s only due to sheer timing that its final teeter didn’t end with it rolling one last time and crushing the vehicle.

It’s believed the rock was loosened from its perch by the pounding rains of Tropical Storm Kong Rey, which doused Taiwan with more than 500 mm of rain in August.

The storm forced thousands of evacuations, and by the time it moved on, three people in Taiwan had lost their lives.

Japan’s underwater crop circles

Now what the hey is this thing?

Image: Yoji Ookata

Image: Yoji Ookata

Since the first of these seven-foot underwater sand circles was sighted in 1995, scientists were baffled as to what they were.

Finally, in 2011, Japanese scientists discovered that, no, it wasn’t underwater aliens or astonishingly well organized and patient pranksters. The neat display is the work of a male pufferfish, presumably hoping to entice a female by playing at being the sensitive artist type.

Apparently it takes them up to nine days to craft one of these with their fins.

We’re not sure how often it works out for them, but when the first results of research into their labours were released this year, it certainly brought readers flocking to our news section.

Killer Whale steals prize catch

Here’s another popular story from the depths of the sea, but while those pufferfish are diligent and tireless in their task, this orca was just being lazy.

Seriously, why hunt for your own halibut when you can just raid the lines of the many sport fishermen that play the waters around Alaska?

Killer whales like the one in the video above have a very varied diet, but it seems they’re not above the occasional pilfering. 

Although, to be fair, we think those fishermen would be willing to forgo just one measly catch for the chance to tell their friends the ultimate “one that got away” story.

Pakistan earthquake so powerful, it created a new island

When a Magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck Pakistan in September, it claimed more than 800 lives, one of the deadliest natural disasters of the year.

But of the stories we wrote about the quake, none garnered more interest than the news the quake had coughed up a brand new island:

The island is made mostly of mud and rock, and was more than 175 m across at its longest point.

It’s not every day a country actually GAINS land, but Pakistan isn’t rushing to settle it anytime soon. Experts say the island will be eroded into nothing by the wind and the waves. 

Eagle attacks deer in Russia

Animal researchers keeping an eye on remote cams set up to glimpse the Russian Far East’s Siberian Tigers got quite the shock during a routine check in 2011. Rather than the rare and endangered big cats, this is what they found:

Image: Zoological Society of London

Image: Zoological Society of London

Yep, that is a golden eagle attacking a deer, noticeably larger than itself. The three frames shot over a two-second period clearly show the bird dominating the terrified deer.

Golden eagles usually only eat small birds or mammals, but we guess scientists should now add Bambi to the menu. 

Although the attack happened in 2011, the story didn’t emerge until this year, as that’s when the results of the study were published.

Sharknado warnings cover Ontario (sort of)

When a film with a name like “Sharknado” hits the screens, it’s best not to take it too seriously. Just relax, and enjoy.

Incidentally, that’s what Weather Network producer Scott Meiklejohn did when the film was released, teaming up with meteorologist Dayna Vettese to, ah, localize this outstanding weather story:

The web-only video was a big hit with our viewers, earning it a spot on this list.

Incidentally, our met team still has those Sharknado warning graphics tucked away in the server somewhere. The Weather Network’s motto is “Plan for Anything,” and we assure you, that is a promise we take very, very seriously.

Worms and eggs found in recently discovered oarfish

The sea monster in this story, meanwhile, was totally a real thing – a five-metre long oarfish that was likely one of the sources of the sea monster myth in many cultures.

Image: Catalina Island Marine Institute

Image: Catalina Island Marine Institute

Two of these things washed ashore this year, and every time we wrote about it, readers just couldn’t get enough.

Aside from the “wow” factor, the discoveries yielded a treasure trove of new information about what is still a very poorly-known species. Along the new findings: One beastie boasted thousands of eggs in its ovaries, and the other was completely infested with parasites:

Looks gross, but it’s mostly harmless.

Man drives boat through a waterspout

If ever there was a textbook example of “do NOT try this at home,” it’s this one.

That gentleman is one of two who were out lobster fishing when they encountered a couple of funnel clouds – and proceeded to drive right through one of the resulting water spouts.

He seems to be an experienced captain, operating a charter boat out of the Florida Keys for two decades or so, so we believe him when he says he was mindful of the risks.

Still. Braver than us, for sure.

Scientists discover why the bees are dying

The big buzz around bees this summer was that large numbers of them were apparently dying off, but no one seemed to have any idea why, or how to stop it.

This was a huge deal, and the average member of the public seemed to know it. The insects play a crucial role in plant pollination and fertilization, so if they go, a substantial chunk of the ecosystem as we know it goes with ‘em.

The most popular bee story on our website – in fact, one of THE most popular news stories on our website – was this one, where scientists seemed to hit upon the answer.

It seems they studied afflicted hives, and found concentrations of chemicals commonly found it fungicides. The chemicals themselves are mostly harmless to bees, but did increase their susceptibility to a kind of parasite that causes huge numbers of bees to abandon their hives, causing their collapse.

Is summer really over in Canada?

Our nation’s brief summer does lead to the media asking this question pretty often as the season nears its end – but not usually in August, which was when meteorologist Doug Gillham penned this overview of what at that point had been an unseasonably cool summer in many locations.

The cooldown had enough readers worried about the premature end of the season that they flocked to this article when we posted it. But it wasn’t just the cooldown that made the summer stand out thus far.

Heatwaves, unseasonably warm temperatures and heavy rains that made for major flooding in Toronto, and near catastrophic flooding in Alberta.

So when someone asked the question “is summer really over in Canada?” we’re not surprised to find it proved so popular with readers. Given how the season had been up until that point, we’d be curious too.

Funnel cloud spotted near Mount Forest, Ontario

This is Canada. We’re the second most tornado-prone nation on Earth, after the United States. And at the Weather Network, there are always tons of stories about tornadoes, either talking about risk, active weather, or aftermath.

We’re putting this one on our list of most-popular news stories because it rocketed to the top of the list pageview-wise in no time flat – and the title on the thumbnail didn't even mention the word "tornado." 

iMAGE: Dave PAtrick, @wwxchaser

iMAGE: Dave PAtrick, @wwxchaser

It was a funnel cloud. Just a funnel cloud. Many of those don’t even make it to full-tornado status. But the instant we put it on the website, warning people in the area to be wary, people responded in a big way.

We thought the tens of thousands of pageviews this story garnered warranted a mention because, if nothing else, it shows that Canadians are definitely aware their country has tornadoes, and deadly ones, and even one single funnel cloud will instantly put them on high alert.

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