By Daniel Trotta and Chris Francescani
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Revelers from around the world crowded into New York's Times Square on a bone-chilling Sunday evening to watch the glittering New Year's Eve ball make its annual descent at midnight, undeterred and perhaps reassured by a massive police presence.
The temperature in midtown Manhattan plunged to about 11 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 12 degrees Celsius) in the waning hours of 2017, with a "Real Feel" of 4F (minus 15C), according to AccuWeather.com. That made it the second-coldest New Year's Eve on record, matching 1962. Top honors go to 1917, when the mercury in Times Square dropped to 1F (-17C).
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 be in 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).
But the weather was severe enough to test the meddle of even the hardiest of partygoers.
Alejandro Garcia, 32, of Barcelona, Spain, said the only thing standing between him and leaving early for a warm hotel room was his girlfriend, graduate student Gamma Elias, 28.
"I'm freezing to death out here!" Garcia said, wrapping his arms around Elias. "But she wants to stay."
Like tens of thousands of other merrymakers, the couple stood in one of dozens of fenced-in enclosures set up for blocks along the square. After hours of waiting, they will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the giant ball as it makes its annual, one-minute descent on the southern end of the plaza.
Greg Packer, 54, a retired highway maintenance manager from Huntington, New York, had a prime spot 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.
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.
Brynn Hansen, 14, from Longmont, Colorado, appeared unfazed by the heightened security. She said she was living a dream.
"It's been on my bucket list, and now I can cross it off. It's exciting to be here."
(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Dave Gregorio and Michael Perry)