NEW YORK (AP) – New Yorkers, celebrity entertainers and tourists from around the world are packing into a frigid Times Square Sunday to mark the start of 2018 with a glittering crystal ball drop, a burst of more than a ton of confetti and midnight fireworks.
It was only 14 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) in the city by late afternoon – already making it one of the coldest celebrations on record. Security was at an all-time high after a year that saw several fatal attacks on large crowds, including one in Times Square itself last spring.
Remle Scott, 22, and her boyfriend Brad Whittaker, 22, of San Diego, arrived shortly after 9 a.m., saying they were trying to keep a positive attitude as temperatures hovered in the teens. Each was wearing several layers of clothing.
“Our toes are frozen, so we’re just dealing with it by dancing.” Scott said.
In a prime viewing spot near 42nd Street, Alexander Ebrahim grinned as he looked around at the flashing lights of Times Square.
“I always saw it on TV, so I thought why not come out and see it in person,” said the 19-year-old from Orange County, California. “It’s an experience you can never forget.”
Ebrahim came alone – and planned to welcome the new year with others enduring the cold with him. Brother and sister Dave and Amy Jensen came from Chicago – and were optimistic both about coping in the cold and the year ahead.
“I think it will be a year of optimism for a lot of people looking forward,” Dave Jensen said.
Mariah Carey will perform again on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” hosted by Ryan Seacrest, after a bungled performance last year in which she stumbled through her short set, failing to sing for most of it despite a pre-recorded track of her songs playing in the background. Carey was visibly upset during the performance and she blamed the show’s production team, but they ultimately buried the hatchet. Carey posted an advertisement featuring herself for the show on Dec. 22 that said: “Take 2.”
The dazzling finale of the show will be the traditional drop of a Waterford Crystal ball down a pole atop One Times Square.
This year, the ball is 12 feet (3.5 meters) in diameter, weighs 11,875 pounds and is covered with 2,688 triangles that change colors like a kaleidoscope, illuminated by 32,256 LED lights. When the first ball drop happened in 1907, it was made of iron and wood and adorned with 100 25-watt light bulbs. The first celebration in the area was in 1904, the same year the city’s first subway line started running.
After two terrorist attacks and a rampaging SUV driver who plowed into a crowd on the very spot where the party takes place, police are taking no chances.
Security will be tighter than ever before. Garages in the area will be emptied of cars and sealed off. Detectives are stationed at area hotels working with security officials to prevent sniper attacks.
Thousands of uniformed officers will line the streets. Cement blocks and sanitation trucks will block vehicles from entering the secure area where spectators will gather. Revelers must pass through one of a dozen checkpoints where they will be screened and then screened again as the make their way to the main event.
The police department estimates that it costs $7.5 million to protect the event.
Partygoers will be penned in place for hours and will have to bundle up.
The National Weather Service expects temperatures in the middle teens in Times Square at midnight Sunday, with wind chill values that could make it feel like minus 5 (-15 Celsius).
The event could rival some of the coldest New Year’s celebrations on record: In 1962 it was just 11 degrees outside, and in 1939 and 2008 it was 18 degrees. At least it won’t be as cold as the frostiest ball drop on record: 1 degree in 1907.
Tarana Burke, an activist who started a “Me Too” campaign a decade ago to raise awareness about sexual violence, will start this year’s ceremonial ball drop. She’ll push the crystal button that officially begins the 60-second countdown to the new year.
A flurry of tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts ensued after actress-activist Alyssa Milano urged victims to respond with the phrase “me too.” Milano initially wasn’t aware of Burke’s earlier campaign and has since publicly credited her. Burke said she hopes the new year will bring “new momentum to fuel this work and we won’t stop anytime soon.”
Just minutes after midnight, partygoers drain from the area as if a giant tub stopper has been pulled up. And the cleanup begins, led by a small army of city employees including more than 200 sanitation workers, dozens of police officers who clear the area of confetti and other garbage. Crews removed more than 44 tons (40 metric tons) of debris last year.