NEW YORK, Dec 31 (Reuters) - New York’s Times Square was filling up on Sunday as hordes of hardy revelers, undeterred by bitter cold and an unprecedented security operation, maneuvered for prime spots to view the giant New Year’s Eve ball drop at midnight.
The temperature in midtown Manhattan was expected to plunge to about 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 12 degrees Celsius) in the waning hours of 2017, with a “Real Feel” of 4F (minus 15C), according to AccuWeather.com.
If forecasts prove accurate, 2017 would match 1962 as the second-coldest New Year’s Eve on record. Top honors go to 1917, when the mercury in Times Square dropped to 1F (-17C) and the wind chill came in at -18F (-28C).
Jaden Hunter, a 13-year-old from southern New Jersey, arrived at around 6 p.m., protected by a face mask and geared up for a good time.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hunter said. “It’s pretty chilly, but we’ve got hand-warmers and all kinds of thermal technology.”
By midnight, police expected roughly 2 million people to crowd into the vicinity of Times Square, the bow-tie-shaped plaza formed by the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan. That is roughly the same number as last year, when the temperature at midnight was a comfortable 44F (7C).
City crowd-control measures corral merrymakers into block after block of fenced-in enclosures. After hours of waiting, they will have an unobstructed view of the giant crystal ball as it makes its annual one-minute descent down a pole mounted on the southern end of the square.
Greg Packer, 54, a retired highway maintenance manager from Huntington, New York, had a prime spot beneath the ball on West 43rd Street after arriving at 7 a.m.
“It feels more like Antarctica than New York. But everybody in the world is here,” he marveled, glancing around at the crowds in nearly every direction. “And I’m here.”
Revelers will count down the final hours of 2017 with a lineup of musical acts including Nick Jonas and Neil Diamond.
Mariah Carey is returning as well, no doubt hoping to make amends for last year’s highly criticized performance marred by technical difficulties. Andy Grammer will perform his hit song “Fresh Eyes” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” just before midnight.
Then comes the ball drop, a tradition that dates to 1907, three years after New Yorkers started gathering en masse in Times Square to usher in the new year.
The lighted ball, actually a geodesic sphere 12 feet (3.7 meters) in diameter and covered by illuminated crystals, will descend 70 feet (21 meters) in the final 60 seconds.
SHOW OF FORCE
Thousands of police were on hand, some heavily armed, others undercover. The show of force is part of a beefed-up security plan that follows a spate of attacks in the city and around the world that authorities have labeled as terrorist.
Patrick Lynch, head of the New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the New York Police Department’s largest union, said 7,000 members of the NYPD were on patrol.
“I’ve been on the job for 34 years, and this has to be the coldest New Year’s Eve I can remember,” he said.
The NYPD has provided officers with specialized training to stop any suicide bombers in response to an attempted bombing in a Times Square subway station walkway on Dec. 11.
Police will deploy observation teams trained to spot snipers. There will also be more explosive-detecting dogs and more officers positioned throughout the area this year.
People hoping to see musical acts and other entertainment up close in Times Square must pass by heavily armed officers along with dogs trained to detect explosives. They must go through a magnetometer to check for weapons, have their bags inspected, then repeat all those steps a second time.
Police cars, dump trucks filled with sand and cement blocks were again used to close streets starting Sunday morning. About 125 parking garages in the area were emptied of all cars and sealed.
(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Frank McGurty and David Gregorio)