A man walks with his groceries in a cart, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, in Erie, Pa. The cold weather pattern was expected to continue through the holiday weekend and likely longer, according to the National Weather Service, prolonging a stretch of brutal weather blamed for several deaths, crashes and fires. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
2018 brings record cold to much of US
02:05 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Out with the old, in with the cold.

With much of the Midwest and Northeast already besieged by freezing temperatures, ice and snow, the weather is going from bad to worse – and spreading to the South – just as revelers rang in the new year.

In New York, hundreds of thousands of people packed Times Square in the 9-degree Fahrenheit weather, with a wind chill of 4 degrees below zero, to watch the 2018 ball drop and confetti rain down on the street. The frigid temperature made it the second-coldest New Year’s Eve ball drop on record in New York. The coldest ball drop in New York City still holds at 1-degree Fahrenheit in 1917.

But authorities had said they didn’t expect the frigid temperatures to cool revelers’ spirits.

“There’s a lot of brave people in New York City and the United States,” New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill told reporters this week. “So, I’m sure there’ll still be millions of people in Times Square, no matter how cold it gets.”

With hours to go before Sunday’s ball drop, brothers Austin and Cal Adomitis looked like they were ready to hit the slopes as they waited in Times Square, wearing ski goggles as they prepared to welcome 2018.

“I just thought it would be a good idea to keep my eyes from freezing,” said 18-year-old Cal, who traveled to New York from Pittsburgh to spend the holiday with his brother.

Austin, 23, said frigid temperatures weren’t their only worry. They set out to the event early to make sure they nabbed a good spot for the show.

“We’ve got the gloves, and the hand warmers, and we’ve got a view of the ball,” he said, “So we’re ready.”

New Yorkers, celebrity entertainers and tourists from around the world packed into Times Square Sunday for what's expected to be a flashy but frigid celebration.

Record lows expected

New Year’s Eve is expected to be 20 to 40 degrees colder than usual across much of the United States, forecasters say. As many as 27 record lows are expected to be set on New Year’s Day. And 24 record lows for January 2 are possible on Tuesday.

That’s on top of record lows set late last week, from Danville, Virginia, to Augusta, Maine.

From Hettinger, North Dakota – where it was minus 37 degrees Sunday morning – and the Adirondacks of New York down to the very southern tip of Texas, more than 150 million people were under wind chill alerts in the United States on Sunday morning, more than double Saturday’s 70 million.

Of the lower 48 states, only 10 weren’t under a wind chill alert, and only two of those are east of the Rocky Mountains: Florida and South Carolina.

Southern regions unused to such temperatures could see some icy roads as an early morning hard freeze follows rain.

“It’s going to be extra bad in the South, where they are not used to dealing with it,” said CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar.

Brownsville, Texas, on the southern border with Mexico, could see wind chill in the 20s.

Revellers stay warm in Times Square early Sunday morning as they prepare for New Year's Eve celebrations.

In Atlanta, which holds an annual Peach Drop, temperatures are predicted to dip to 22 degrees.

In Boston, forecasters predict a low of minus 1, with wind chill values as low as minus 7 degrees on New Year’s Eve, and 2 degrees on the first day of the year. Mayor Marty Walsh urged residents to take precautions for the bitterly cold weather.

“In times like these, it’s vital for residents to look out for one another, and I encourage all Bostonians to reach out to the city if they or their neighbors need help this winter season,” he said in a statement.

Bracing for temperature drops

The arctic front that hit earlier already has brutalized parts of the United States. It was so cold in Massachusetts last week that sharks were washing up on the shoreline of Cape Cod Bay, “likely stranded due to cold shock,” the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy said.

In Rochester, New York, calls to AAA Roadside Assistance in the rural areas surged because of snow, CNN affiliate Spectrum News Rochester reported.

“On a normal winter day in Rochester, we see about 300 calls in the metro area and much lower in the rural areas, said AAA Roadside Assistance Manager Mark Mika. “This week that`s changed. In the rural areas it has jumped considerably, almost to 600 calls in one day.”

Beleaguered Erie, Pennsylvania, has gotten more snow in December – 121.3 inches – than its average for an entire winter season, meteorologist Chinchar said. And the city is forecast to get as much as 6 inches in the next two days.

There’s no light at the end of the snow tunnel for much of the United States. Although it will get a few degrees warmer in the coming week, temperatures are expected to drop again late in the week.

“It’s not like this is going to end and it goes back to normal,” Chinchar said.

But if you’re looking to escape the cold, you could try the West, where places like Kingman, Arizona, are experiencing record highs. On Friday, more than 32 record highs were recorded, according to CNN meteorologists.

CNN’s Polo Sandoval contributed to this report.