The coronavirus was far and away the top story of the year on NBC10Boston.com, as the virus continued to mutate and generate headlines in Massachusetts and across the globe.
But it wasn't the only story that generated a lot of attention in 2021.
Here's a look at the 10 local stories that drew the most eyeballs this year:
The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the news again in 2021, starting with the vaccination push in the early part of the year and subsequent plans to reopen the economy as cases started to dip. But then cases began soaring once again later in the year, forcing many states and cities and towns to bring back mask mandates and other measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus that we had hoped were in the rear-view mirror. And the year draws to a close with a new threat posed by the highly transmissible omicron variant, although there are signs that symptoms may be less severe than with previous strains.
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The top non-COVID story of the year was the tale of the megalodon that was not, in fact, a giant prehistoric shark. Back in May, a TikTok video of a massive shark swimming around near a tall ship off the coast of Massachusetts went viral. The video, in which one person jokingly asks, "Is that a megalodon?" garnered millions of views. The megalodon is an extinct species believed to be the largest shark to have ever lived. The shark seen in the video was actually a basking shark, the second largest species of its kind.
Over the long Fourth of July weekend, 11 people affiliated with a militia group called the Rise of the Moors became involved in an armed standoff with police off Interstate 95 north of Boston. The situation ended peacefully after several hours when all of the suspects were taken into custody. The group had refused to comply with police during a traffic stop, prompting I-95 to be shut down during the busy holiday weekend and shelter-in-place orders to be imposed in nearby communities.
On a weekend in mid-September, a large plane flanked by two fighter jets was seen circling the MetroWest area, alarming many people in Greater Boston. They started searching for information about the planes and many of those searches brought them to our story. Apparently, the planes had taken part in an air show earlier in the day in New Hampshire. Numerous people in Massachusetts complained about the low altitude, the noise, and the timing, seeing that it took place just one day after the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
This may not have been the top story of 2021, but it was probably the wildest. Back in June, commercial lobster diver Michael Packard was briefly swallowed alive by a humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod. The whale later spit him out, and he survived with only a broken leg. He wound up going on Reddit and and even "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" to answer questions and recount his tale.
Three tornadoes touched down in Massachusetts in late August as what was left of Tropical Storm Henri made its way through the region. They were brief and small, and didn't cause much damage, according to the National Weather Service. They touched down in Marlboro, Bolton and Stow. A waterspout was also confirmed on Sunset Lake in Ashburnham. Multiple tornado warnings were issued as Henri moved back eastward across southern New England.
Donnie Wahlberg will always hold a special place in Bostonians hearts both for being a founding member of the group New Kids on the Block and for proudly attending games and representing the Boston Celtics and other local sports teams. In August, after 11-year-old Connor Stuart's souvenir New Kids on the Block T-shirt was ripped from his hands after the band's Fenway Park concert, Wahlberg sent the boy a personalized video message. He also sent Connor a special care package filled with NKOTB souvenirs.
When the Red Sox lost to the Astros 9-1 in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park in October, some fans accused Houston of cheating by using whistles to relay signs to the batters on the type of pitch they were about to get. Some of the whistles were caught on camera, and Sox fans started using the hashtag #WhistleGate on Twitter. The Astros have been dogged by cheating allegations since their 2017 sign-stealing scandal, but nothing ultimately came of this year's incident. Houston went on to defeat Boston in six games before losing to the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.
People are always interested in predictions of how much snow we're going to see. This is New England, after all. This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its winter weather prediction for the 2021-2022 season in October. Their overall prediction called for a 40% to 50% of above-normal chances and an equal chance of above, below or near normal precipitation. So it isn't exactly a crystal ball.
One of the year's cutest stories happened in May, when Kiki the gorilla, a mother of five, became fascinated with 5-month-old Canyon Austin of Maine while he and his family were visiting Boston's Franklin Park Zoo. Canyon's mother held the baby up against the glass, and Kiki came over to see the baby for herself. Canyon, unfazed, slept through most of the encounter.