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 weather has been 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 ahead of the big night.
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.
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 had 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 Ke$ha 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 headlined the Los Angeles portion of the show.
The Times Square ball, which dropped 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.
In New Jersey, reality show phenom Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi got into the holiday spirit. At midnight, to mimic the New York ball drop, MTV dropped the "Jersey Shore" star in a gaudy globe in Seaside Heights, the shore town where the show is set.