No one could have predicted the devastation wrought by superstorm Sandy along the U.S. East Coast, or how a cruise ship bigger than the Titanic could run aground off a tiny Italian island.
Other unexpected headlines were in a lighter vein: the Gangnam Style dance craze launched by South Korean sensation PSY became a worldwide phenomenon and even had UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon trying to mimic the moves.
Here's a look at 12 surprises from around the world in 2012.
Superstorm Sandy's devastation
Fall storms off the Atlantic seaboard aren't unusual, but the strength and devastation in the wake of superstorm Sandy were something else again.
Sandy struck the U.S. East Coast on Oct. 29, devastating the New Jersey shore, flooding parts of New York City and leaving millions without power in 17 states, some of them for weeks. At least 125 people died in the U.S. alone, more in the Caribbean.
Forecasting firm Eqecat has said total damage from the storm could be as high as $50 billion US, a total that would make it the second-costliest storm in U.S. history, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Costa Concordia disaster
Cruise ships are supposed to take passengers on idyllic escapes, not end in disaster, with 32 people dead and their hulls partially submerged off the coast of Tuscany.
Nearly a year after the Jan. 13 sinking of the Costa Concordia, its wreck is still lying where it ran aground off the Italian island of Giglio with a 35-metre gash in its hull.
In an interview with the fifth estate's Bob McKeown, ship Capt. Francesco Schettino suggested he has been unfairly blamed for both the shipwreck and for appearing to abandon the ship prematurely. He is facing trial for manslaughter.
Mark Carney on the move
In the summer, Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney denied he was interested in heading the Bank of England, as was being reported.
Three months later, the announcement that the native of Fort Smith, N.W.T., will leave his Canadian position early to lead Britain's central bank was greeted with almost total surprise on both sides of the Atlantic.
George Osborne, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, said Carney is "quite simply the best, most experienced and most qualified person in the world to do the job."
Carney had also been courted by key members of the federal Liberal party as a potential leadership candidate.
Rockets target Tel Aviv
With the Mideast already in turmoil because of the civil war in Syria and political uncertainty in Egypt, Israel and the Hamas-led Palestinians in Gaza came to the brink of all-out war in November.
To the shock of Israelis, who had come to trust in their superior military, Tel Aviv became the target of mid-range rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.
An Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers ended the worst cross-border fighting in four years.
In eight days of conflict, Israel launched 1,500 airstrikes on Hamas-linked targets, while Hamas and other Gaza militant groups showered Israel with hundreds of rockets.
Burma opens its doors
Once considered an international pariah because of its repressive military regime, Burma continued its transition to democracy — to the point where Barack Obama was welcomed in November as the first U.S. president to visit the Southeast Asian country.
Earlier this year, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada would open an embassy in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent two decades as a political prisoner, now says she'd be willing to serve as the country's president. She and her party won 43 of 44 byelections in April. The next general election is not expected until 2015.
Obama's first debate
Even Barack Obama acknowledged later he was way off his rhetorical game during his first U.S. presidential election debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney in October.
The incumbent and Democratic standard-bearer seemed particularly lacklustre and distracted, while Romney seemed much better prepared.
Obama admitted later he had a "bad night," but he bounced back in subsequent debates and ultimately won the Nov. 6 election.
The Petraeus affair
The United States' chief spy might be expected to be above tawdry headlines, but David Petraeus proved otherwise.
The CIA director — and high-profile four-star general — resigned in November after admitting he had an affair.
Petraeus had reportedly called off the relationship with biographer Paula Broadwell four months earlier. But news of the relationship came out after Broadwell emailed a woman she felt was a rival for Petraeus's affections and the FBI was called in because of the threatening nature of the email.
Kate's going to be a mom
As soon as Prince William and Kate Middleton were married in London's Westminster Abbey in April 2011, the tabloid baby watch began.
Rumours were rampant, but only turned into a public reality on Dec. 3 with the statement from St. James Palace that a pregnant Duchess of Cambridge had been admitted to hospital with acute morning sickness. Kate has since rallied, and been seen out and about.
No due date has been announced, but reports suggest the child could arrive in June.
Lance Armstrong stripped of cycling medals
A decade ago, Lance Armstrong was cycling royalty, halfway through what would become an unprecedented seven-year reign as Tour de France champion.
This year, though, cycling's governing body wiped him out of the record books for what U.S. sports authorities described as "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."
Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain, had always denied doping. Less than a month after being stripped of his Tour de France titles, he cut formal ties with the cancer-fighting charity he founded.
Felix Baumgartner falls from the edge of space
It is not something that many people would want to do, but extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner was determined to free fall from the edge of space and break the sound barrier.
Launched into the stratosphere in a pressurized capsule from a site in Roswell, N.M., in October, the Austrian man was carried about 39 kilometres above Earth.
His leap shattered the record for the highest free fall ever, organizers said, as he fell at a speed of 1,342.8 km/h. Until then, no one had ever reached that speed, which broke the sound barrier of 1,200 km/h.
Gangnam Style goes viral
South Korea is not the usual wellspring of international pop culture, but rapper PSY saw his Gangman Style gallop off around the world — and go viral — in 2012.
In late November, PSY's video of his horse-riding dance became YouTube's most viewed video of all time, checking in with 805 million clicks, enough to push it past Justin Bieber's Baby. It has now cracked a billion views.
Gangnam Style busted out all over, with everyone from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and workers at NASA trying out their moves.
Who'd want to kill Justin Bieber?
Pop superstars can have their share of stalkers, but rarely do they have hired hit men on their tails. Rarer still when the target is someone as unlikely as Canadian Justin Bieber, a heartthrob of young girls around the world.
Dana Martin, a convicted killer serving time in prison in New Mexico, told authorities he had come up with a plan to kill the baby-faced Stratford, Ont., singer, ostensibly to boost his own street cred inside prison.
The alleged plot came to light when two men Martin said he'd persuaded to kill the singer took a wrong turn and ended up in Canada, where they were arrested — one on an outstanding warrant, and another later.Suggest a correction