NEW YORK - Still digging out from a debilitating blizzard, New York was poised to welcome nearly a million visitors to Times Square on Friday for the country's largest annual New Year's Eve celebration. Nationwide, revelers set aside concerns about the winter weather and even potential terrorist threats to ring in 2011 at large and small gatherings.
From California, where waterlogged residents have contended with record winter rainfall, to the snowbound states along the Eastern seaboard, New Year's Eve celebrations beckoned as a welcome respite from the brutal weather that closed 2010. The Friday forecast was relatively clear, except in the Rocky Mountain region, where a snowstorm was bearing down.
The snow had disappeared from Times Square days earlier, though mounds of it were left Friday on city streets and curbs. Vendors sold hats and noisemakers, crews prepared TV sets for the ball drop and hundreds milled around Times Square at midnight Thursday. Three students from a Michigan college scoped out a good location for Friday night.
"I'm going to be here, near the closest restroom, just in case," said Mohammed Azuz, 23, of Tripoli, Libya.
Alex Michalski, 18, of Buffalo, hung out with her cousin Thursday but said she was nervous to return Friday night and planned to celebrate at a city nightclub.
"It will be a little bit crazy," said the Ohio State University freshman.
In Chicago, city officials were expecting unseasonably warm temperatures to draw a robust crowd to Navy Pier for two fireworks shows but won't deploy any more resources than normal. The city is offering penny fares for public transit.
Marry Corrigan, a teacher from Fort Myers, Fla., traveled to Chicago to meet her daughters and stay in a downtown hotel. Their plans were to watch the midnight fireworks display at the Navy Pier.
Last year, after also scaling back on Christmas gifts, she opted for a low-key celebration at a bar in Fort Myers.
"I wouldn't be here if the economy wasn't good," said Corrigan, an eighth-grade teacher.
In Portland, Ore., where a 19-year-old Somali-born man is accused of plotting to kill thousands gathered downtown last month for a Christmas tree lighting, police said no New Year's plans were being scaled back. The city hasn't hosted a downtown New Year's celebration since 2001, when partiers got out of hand and a few vandals smashed windows at nearby shops.
"Your standard bar and club parties will be going on," Sgt. Pete Simpson said. "It's just not an outdoor thing here."
Even more than most years, New York will be the city in the spotlight as it battles back from a severe snowstorm and security concerns eight months after a Pakistani immigrant attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the city wasn't the target of a New Year's Eve terror threat. But police have a strict security plan in place, with sealed manhole covers and counter-snipers on rooftops. The police ban backpacks in the crowd; partygoers must pass through checkpoints.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials have endured days of withering criticism for the city's slow response to the Dec. 26 storm, which dumped 20 inches of snow on city streets that still aren't completely clear. But holiday tourists helped clear streets, said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance.
"We have the best snow plow ever invented—500,000 pairs of feet walking through Times Square. That's been melting our snow," Tompkins said.
Host Ryan Seacrest and the singer Kesha were among the celebrities to appear on the nationally televised countdown to the ball drop at Times Square. Singer Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas will headline the Los Angeles portion of the show.
The Times Square ball, which will drop at midnight to signal the beginning of the new year, is 12 feet in diameter and holds more than 32,000 LED lights.
Ed Crawford, CEO of Philips Lighting North America, which has lit the Times Square ball since the millennium celebration in 2000, said the lights were so energy efficient the ball uses the same among of power as two standard ovens.
"There will be lots of special effects. The ball can do anything," Crawford said.
Stormy weather, travel difficulties and security concerns didn't deter New Year's enthusiasm in Southern California, where the biggest party is always Pasadena's Rose Parade and Rose Bowl football game. Tens of thousands gathered for pep rallies in Pasadena and at the historic Santa Monica pier, the same as in years past.
In Las Vegas, some 300,000 partiers were expected to hit the famed strip with celebrity musicians Jay-Z and Coldplay scheduled to perform. Other warm and party-friendly cities like New Orleans, Miami and Atlanta also planned large celebrations.
Michelle Lawrence of Underground Atlanta, which organizes that city's annual Peach Drop, said the event typically draws about 100,000 people over 17 hours of New Year's events. The evening will include live music, a carnival and stores open late, she said. Visitors carrying alcohol, weapons, pets or lawn chairs would not be allowed in, Lawrence said.
Christy Maes, a 29-year old Chicago resident, had planned to visit Canada for New Year's but headed to Atlanta instead to avoid bad weather.
"We hadn't seen Atlanta before, and it's a good time to come South because of the weather," Maes said. "It's warmer here. Not warm, but warmer."
In New Jersey, reality show phenom Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi was getting into the holiday spirit. At midnight, to mimic the New York ball drop, MTV planned to air a drop of "Jersey Shore" star in a gaudy globe in Seaside Heights, the shore town where the show is set.
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