Stuff's top 20 rating stories for 2012

01:29, Dec 24 2012
Hurricane Sandy
WEATHER POWER: Superstorm Sandy proved weather's a draw, wherever it happens.

What news gripped Stuff readers in 2012? The short answer is natural disasters, bad weather and human tragedies.

The lethal tornado which tore through a West Auckland suburb this month proved the greatest draw, while the ''super storm'' which battered America's east coast in late October proved weather rules, no matter where it happens.

Tongariro's two small but unexpected eruptions also attracted massive interest, as did the hot air balloon crash in the Wairarapa, killing all 11 on board, at the start of the year.

Of the 20 most-viewed stories on Stuff during 2012, only a couple didn't involve death, destruction or crummy weather: namely, the excuse-making from Belarus when that country's Olympic shotputter, Nadzeya Ostapchuk, was revealed as a drug cheat during her competition with New Zealand's Valerie Adams; and the US presidential election.

Here's a run-through of Stuff's top 20 most-viewed stories for 2012.

No.1: Auckland's killer tornado (December 6)

The early-summer day started with weather forecasters warning of a high risk of thunderstorms around Auckland, but nothing prepared the people of Hobsonville for the ferocious windstorm which tore through their suburb at lunchtime, destroying and damaging hundreds of houses, displacing hundreds of people, and leaving three construction workers dead.

No.2: Mt Tongariro's first eruption (August 6)

The small but unexpected late-night eruption of Tongariro in the central North Island sent ash and rock hundreds of metres into the air and across surrounding countryside. The eruption appeared to be short-lived and caused relatively minor disruption, such as the temporary closure of the popular Tongariro Crossing track.

No.3: The Carterton hot-air balloon disaster (January 7)

A weekend sightseeing balloon ride across the Wairarapa countryside ended horrifically when the balloon got trapped under power lines near the end of its flight. It exploded into flames, killing all 11 on board.

No.4: Superstorm Sandy (late October)

The powerful storm pounded America's eastern seaboard in late October, with the worst damage around New York and New Jersey on October 29. More than 250 people were killed in various countries as Sandy swept through the Caribbean. It caused more than $60 billion damage in the United States and is credited with bolstering President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, on the strength of his focused leadership around the storm response days out from the poll.

No.5: Christchurch's winter snow storm (June 6)

A brutal southerly swept up the country at the start of winter with Christchurch taking the brunt in the form of a heavy snowfall which brought the city  to a near-standstill.

No.6: Tongariro's second eruption (November 21)

 The mountain put on another show in late November - again relatively small, but this time there were plenty of visitors in the nearby area to watch as a plume of ash was spurted high into the sky early in the afternoon.  As with the first eruption, the effects were minor.

No.7: The year's big shake (July 2)

A 7.0 magnitude quake centred in the Taranaki bight, off the North Island's west coast, in the night of July 2 was felt widely across central New Zealand, although it caused no significant damage.

No.8: New Zealand triplets die in mall fire (May 29)

Two-year-old Wellington-born triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes were among 19 people killed (13 of them children) when fire ripped through their day-care centre in a shopping mall in Doha, the capital of the Arab state of Qatar.

No.9: Christchurch's shaky start to the year (January 2)

While the city's seismic activity dropped off markedly during 2012, the year started ominously with a swarm of moderately-sized earthquakes early in the new year, continuing on from the thousands affecting the city over the previous 16 months.

No.10: Indonesia's tsunami panic (April 11)

Two large earthquakes off the coast of Sumatra revived memories of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, triggering alerts across the Indian Ocean and chaotic evacuations in areas badly affected in 2004;  miraculously, nearby areas escaped with minimal injuries or damage.

No.11: Mass shooting at Batman premiere (July 20)

A masked gunman opened fire on the audience at a midnight screening of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, in the American city of Aurora, Colorado, killing 14 and injuring dozens.

No.12: Not guilty verdict in Scott Guy trial (July 3)

The high-profile trial of Manawatu farmer Ewen Macdonald, accused of murdering his brother-in-law, Scott Guy, ended in dramatic fashion when Macdonald was found not guilty by the jury.

No.13: North Island braces for a ''weather bomb'' (March 3)

Weather forecasters warned  a ''weather bomb'' would bring extreme winds to parts of the North Island; the southwest of the island were worst-affected, although the storms were short-lived.

No.14: Nadzeya Ostapchuk's Olympic disgrace - and excuses (August 15)

 The London Olympics shot putt gold medal winner Ostapchuk cast around for others to blame after she was revealed as a drug cheat and was stripped of her medal, which instead went to New Zealand's Valerie Adams, capping a rollercoaster Games for the Kiwi.

No.15: Two people fall from Auckland building (October 3)

A Mexican woman and her baby died after being seen to fall from a window high in a central Auckland apartment complex.

No.16: America's presidential election (November 7)

Pundits predicted it would be one of the closest-fought presidential elections in history, ensuring intense international interest in the contest between the Democratic incumbent (and eventual winner) Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

No.17: South Canterbury's murder-suicide (late May)

The discovery  of two bodies in rugged South Canterbury hill country developed into a murder investigation; eventually, police confirmed that one of the bodies was a missing Czech tourist, 31-year-old Dagmar ''Dasha'' Pytlickova; the other,  local man Jason Frandi, who had picked the woman up hitch-hiking, kidnapping and sexually assaulting her before killing her - then himself.

No.18 : Rena's grip stays firm (early January)

The wreck of the container ship Rena, wedged on the Bay of Plenty's Astrolabe reef since October 2011, remained firmly in the public eye and firmly stuck on the rocks as the new year began, despite stormy weather that threatened to see it dragged into the sea.

No.19: Bad spring weather (September 11)

A cold blast hit the country in early spring, with the south and Wellington  in the firing line.

No. 20: Death of Jacintha Saldanha (December 7)

The story which triggered international outrage, after two Australian radio announcers tricked their way into getting a patient update on the Duchess of Cambridge from the London hospital treating her for morning sickness. The stunt took a horrible twist three days later when the nurse who handled the call was found dead in a suspected suicide.