Top 22 Biggest Breaking News Stories of Each Year (2000 - 2021)



Top 22 Biggest Breaking News Stories of Each Year (2000 - 2021)

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Matt Klem
These are the stories that have shaped the far. For this list, we'll be looking at the biggest, most shocking and talked about news stories of every year since the 21st century began. Our countdown includes September 11, Hurricane Katrina, Tōhoku Earthquake & Tsunami, #MeToo, COVID-19 Pandemic, and more.

Top 22 Breaking News Stories of Each Year 2000-2021

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 22 Breaking News Stories of Each Year from 2000-2021.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the biggest, most shocking and talked about news stories of every year since the 21st century began.

What was the most memorable news event since 2000 for you? Let us know in the comments.

2000: Florida Election Recount

Many had predicted that the year would be dominated by the Y2K crisis. But fears that technology would collapse turned out to be unfounded. Instead, it was a very different crisis that stole headlines. The 2000 United States presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush was neck and neck, and in the end it all came down to Florida, where results were so close that it triggered a recount. At the center of the ensuing controversy were voting punch-cards, and accusations that thousands of citizens, disproportionately African-Americans, had been mislabeled as felons and expunged from voting rolls. It dragged on until December 12, when the Supreme Court stopped the recount. Gore conceded, and Bush became the 43rd president of the United States.

2001: September 11

It was the deadliest terror attack in history, taking the lives of almost 3,000 people. At 8:46am on September 11th, 2001, a Boeing 767 airplane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. It was followed by three additional aircraft that crashed into the South Tower, the Pentagon, and an open field in rural Pennsylvania. The planes had been hijacked by members of Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden. The world was glued to their televisions watching the attacks unfold. The aftermath has been felt across the globe since. It altered the way the world perceives terrorism, and led to widespread changes in air travel security.

2002: "War on Terror"

Following the September 11 attacks, US President George W. Bush set in motion what would become known as “the war on terror”. The stated aim was to combat terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, along with countries that supported them. It included the US-led invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, as well as conflicts in various other countries, such as Pakistan and Yemen. The War in Afghanistan would drag on for two decades. In the years since, critics have pointed to hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, and argued that the War on Terror was also used to push other military and political objectives, notably in Iraq.

2003: Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster

NASA’s Space Shuttle program ran for more than 30 years before it was retired in 2011. During that time period, the program had 133 fully successful missions. However in 2003 - the same year Saddam Hussein was captured in Iraq - the space shuttle Columbia was lost during reentry. During its original takeoff, a piece of polyurethane foam insulation came off the shuttle and subsequently impacted the left wing. Upon reentry, the heat shield was breached, destroying the wing and leading to the deaths of the crew. The incident caused NASA to pause all future shuttle missions for more than two years and gave way to new safety and rescue procedures.

2004: Boxing Day Tsunami

On December 26th, 2004, an earthquake registering 9.1 on the Richter scale struck just west of Sumatra, Indonesia. It was the largest quake ever detected in the 21st century, and the third largest ever recorded in history. The geological event triggered a series of tsunamis that rose as high as 100 feet. Many cities and communities along the Indian Ocean coast were swept away. The disaster caused over 227,000 casualties in over a dozen countries and displaced numerous residents. Hardest hit was the province of Aceh in Indonesia. It was a tragic disaster on a scale that was difficult to come to terms with.

2005: Hurricane Katrina

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was a particularly bad one. In August, Hurricane Katrina battered much of Mississippi and Louisiana, especially New Orleans. Massive floods overtook the city when the levees failed to prevent the water from hitting the streets. Thousands of people were stranded as their homes washed away and upwards of 80% of the city and its infrastructure was destroyed. Local, state, and federal governments were highly criticized for their poor response and lack of preparedness for such an event. Final tallies show the hurricane having a financial cost of around $125 billion dollars.

2006: Pluto Demoted

2006 was the year of Saddam Hussein’s execution. But it was also notable for how it changed the way we look at the stars. For those of us who learned about the solar system prior to 2006, we were all taught that there were nine planets starting with Mercury and ending on Pluto. Since 1992, objects similar in size to Pluto had been discovered in the region known as the Kuiper Belt. This had put Pluto’s status into question for many years as scientists tried to determine how best to describe these planet-like bodies. In August of 2006 the International Astronomical Union changed the rules around what defines a “planet”, moving Pluto into a new category known as “Dwarf Planets”.

2007: Virginia Tech

When residents of the US want a heated debate, all you have to do is bring up the topic of gun control and tempers will flare. Never was this more apparent than after the tragic incident at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 2007, which left 33 dead, including perpetrator Seung-Hui Cho (soong h’wee cho). It ignited a nationwide discussion about how easily Cho had acquired his weapons despite mental health issues. While some argued that gun control laws should be more stringent, gun advocates lobbied for more guns on campuses. In the wake of the tragedy, the federal government passed a law mandating improvements in state reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

2008: Stock Market Crash

It was a perfect storm. Merrill Lynch had suffered billions of dollars in losses. AIG was about to collapse. Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. In late 2008, the failures of these major financial institutions triggered a record-breaking drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average of 777 points. The causes were complicated, but the crisis came mainly as a result of the US housing bubble bursting and the subsequent subprime mortgage crisis as homeowners defaulted on their loans. The blowback from this catastrophe triggered the “Great Recession” in the global economy, which lasted until 2009.

2009: Barack Obama’s Inauguration

Just as Russia was cutting off the gas supply to much of Europe, history was being made in the US. The election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States was one of historical significance. As the first African-American to be elected into the Oval Office, Obama’s inauguration wasn’t just a ceremony of pomp and circumstance. It was a celebration of equality in a country plagued by racial disparity. His platform of “change” had struck a strong chord with voters. The American public had become tired of the constant conflict under the Bush administration and yearned for something new. On January 20th, 2009, they got what they wanted.

2010: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

2010’s most notable headlines included trapped miners in Chile, an earthquake in Haiti, and an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The latter began in April when an explosion on the BP-operated drilling rig Deepwater Horizon killed 11 people and led to a massive oil spill. An estimated 210 million gallons of oil leaked into the ocean over thousands of square miles, killing wildlife and destroying marine habitats for years to come. At home, audiences were aghast as they watched images of doomed seabirds and dolphins covered in oil. BP suffered heavy fines and criminal prosecution as a result of negligence in safety procedures.

2011: Tōhoku Earthquake & Tsunami

The death of Osama bin Laden was certainly worth noting in 2011. But the biggest breaking story of the year was the disaster that struck Japan. On March 11th, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake in the Pacific Ocean triggered a massive tsunami. It towered up to 133 feet tall in places, and traveled at 435 miles per hour towards the city of Sendai (sen-dye). Residents only had a 10 minute warning of the impending wave, which prevented many from escaping. It also led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the second largest nuclear related incident after Chernobyl. The total damage caused by the quake was around $360 billion dollars US. It left over 19,000 dead and many others injured or missing.

2012: Higgs Boson Discovered

What gives elementary particles mass? Since 1964, it’s been theorized that a quantum field called a “Higgs field” is responsible, with a particle called a Higgs boson mediating interactions between other particles and the field. Imagine the field as a thick syrup that slows other particles down. While this seemed like a good theory, it wasn’t until 2012 that the Higgs boson was finally identified. Using the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, scientists were able to observe the particle in action. It actually wasn’t until later that the particle was confirmed as the elusive “God particle”, but that didn’t stop the celebrations beforehand.

2013: Edward Snowden’s Global Surveillance Disclosures

George W. Bush’s “War on Terror” saw a significant expansion of American surveillance programs, including warrantless-wiretapping of US citizens. In 2013, the world learned that the NSA’s programs had grown to include the mass collection of people’s emails, text messages, phone records, browsing histories, and more. While working for the National Security Agency, contractor Edward Snowden obtained information on global mass surveillance efforts by several governments, and leaked documents to journalists. They revealed that governments were obtaining massive amounts of data from companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Vodafone; or just sucking it right out of undersea cables! In the US, some saw Snowden as a hero, others a traitor. But everyone became more aware that Big Brother was watching!

2014: Russia Invades Crimea

One of the major stories of 2014 was the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March, a mystery that might never be solved. But shockingly, that wasn’t the biggest breaking story of that month. When Pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (yah-noo-KOH-vitch) refused to enter into an association agreement with the European Union, Ukrainians rose up to oust him from power. In response, Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The international community condemned the invasion and leveled economic sanctions, but Russia continues to occupy Crimea and hostilities are ongoing.

2015: Same-Sex Marriage Legalized in the US

Back in 2012, same-sex marriage was legal in just a dozen states. A landmark case the following year saw it legalized to various degrees in 38, but many states continued to uphold bans. That all changed on June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court struck down state bans and legalized same sex marriage in all 50 states. The case, Obergefell v. Hodges, began when Jim Obergefell's home state of Ohio refused to acknowledge his marriage to husband John Arthur. He took it to the Supreme Court and landed a massive win for same-sex couples across the country.

2016: Donald Trump Elected President

When Donald Trump announced he was running for President, many were skeptical that a real estate mogul and reality show star could win the White House. His aggressive rhetoric divided the country, as did his support for conspiracy theories and alleged instances of sexual harassment and assault. However, his promise to “make America great again”, deport millions of illegal immigrants, and build a wall between the US and Mexico drew passionate support. The billionaire’s populist politics saw him branded as a “man of the people” and he went on to defeat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Between this and the referendum for Brexit, 2016 was a turbulent time!

2017: #MeToo

2017 saw yet another tragic incident involving legally purchased firearms, with 60 people gunned down in Las Vegas. However, it was the #MeToo movement that dominated headlines throughout 2017 and beyond. It began when the New York Times and The New Yorker reported that dozens of women had accused prominent film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct - exposing decades of predatory behavior. The movement gained extra momentum when actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter to suggest that women who have experienced harassment and abuse post “Me Too” as a status. Women around the world who had been silent about their experiences with men in power came forward to tell their stories, revealing just how widespread the problem really was.

2018: California Wildfires

The Golden State has had a long history of deadly wildfires, which is only expected to become worse in the future due to the effects of climate change. The surge of wildfires in 2018 was also linked to rapid population growth and forest overgrowth. Between July 23rd and August 30th, the Carr Fire destroyed 1,077 homes and burnt almost 230,000 acres of land. That paled however in comparison to the Camp Fire, which in November destroyed 18,804 buildings. In total, fires burnt 1,975,000 acres of land, in the state’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire season.

2019: The Mueller Report

While protests erupted in Hong Kong over democracy, the US was waiting for an answer from Robert Mueller. The former FBI Director was tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, as well as allegations of collusion and obstruction of justice by Trump and his administration. Submitted in late March, the report concluded that Russian interference was “sweeping and systematic”, but that there was insufficient evidence of collusion. Based on the idea that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted, Mueller instead laid out ten instances that might be considered obstruction of justice, leaving it up to Congress to take action. Trump declared it “complete and total exoneration”. But for many on both sides, it seemed to resolve very little.

2020: COVID-19 Pandemic

At first we all thought the Australian bushfires were the worst 2020 had to offer. A few months later, that changed. The last major pandemic to have struck such a large population base was the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918. Almost 100 years later, an outbreak in Wuhan, China, led to the world’s next great pandemic. COVID-19, a variation of the SARS virus, spread across the globe, prompting nationwide lockdowns and leading to the deaths of 1.85 million by the end of the year. The year was also marked by the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin (SHOW-vinn), which ignited worldwide protests against racism and police brutality.

2021: United States Capitol Attack

The 2020 US Presidential Election capped off a turbulent year … with more turmoil. When Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden, he launched a misinformation and legal campaign to delegitimize Biden’s win. His allegations of widespread fraud were knocked down in courts and eventually by hand recounts. However, the campaign culminated on Jan 6, 2021 with an attack by Trump supporters on the Capitol Building in Washington DC. After a Trump rally, rioters stormed the building, seeking to overturn the election results. Gallows were even erected outside as rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence”. An inquiry into the events, and prosecution of those involved, continues into 2022.