As revelers in the Triangle began to count down the final hours of 2015, another count was underway for much of New Year’s Eve.
Intrepid celebrants at the First Night Raleigh street festival huddled under umbrellas while wrapped in rain gear, counting the downpours that kept soaking the rides, vendor booths and other outdoor offerings.
Weather forecasters predicted clear skies for the late-night festivities on Thursday, but as the afternoon waned, many began to wonder whether they could count on those predictions to usher out a rainier than usual year.
December ended with nine straight days of measurable rainfall, according to forecasters at the National Weather Service office in Raleigh.
Fifteen of the 31 days in December were rainy, topping a year that brought more than 57 inches of precipitation – the seventh-highest amount on record for Raleigh, according to National Weather Service statistics.
The wet weather did not dampen the moods of Brooke and Jaden Maurer, sisters who had quick access to the the Sizzler and Fantastical First Night Ferris Wheel rides.
Fred Maurer, a software developer at Duke University, brought his daughters downtown for lunch and realized that the rain offered an advantage for festival-goers early in the afternoon.
“No lines,” he said, pointing to the near empty downtown blocks that have been packed with eager riders in years past on sunnier New Year’s Eves.
The sisters pulled up the hoods on their raincoats and laughed and smiled as water splashed in their face as the Sizzler whirled them through one of many afternoon downpours, as if they were in a water park.
“It was fun,” they said as they pushed toward the Ferris wheel for another spin through the rain.
By nightfall, the storm front offered relief with a light misting instead of the deluges earlier in the day. As the rain disappeared, the crowds appeared.
The street vendors welcomed the sight.
Mike Kelly, a partner in Crabdaddy’s out of Charlottesville, Va., was not crabby at all as he waited for lines to form for the cream of crab soup, crab cakes and shrimp on a stick that he and his partner were offering revelers.
“This is a good festival,” Kelly said. “We like it here.”
William Howell and Kyle Wimbush, vendors who have been coming to Raleigh’s New Year’s Eve celebration since its start in 1990, have studied the crowds over the years. They were selling sparkly top hats, fancy 2016 costume glasses and other adornments as the crowds started to gather for the first of two Big Acorn drops scheduled.
They get a swell of business typically just before midnight, so they weren’t certain early in the evening whether the rain was going to have much of an impact on sales.
They soaked in a moment of quiet as bagpipers and drummers in the N.C. State University Pipes and Drums filled the streets with enchantment as they marched toward the acorn sculpture dangling from the crane in the middle of City Plaza. The whimsical Paperhand Puppets swayed to the street beat, and the Helping Hand Mission Marching Band offered an array of pomp, dance and rhythmic tumbling as excited children with parents in tow rushed for a prime spot for the 7 p.m. countdown.
Scythian, a Celtic rock band from the nation’s capital, belted out its high-energy blend of Celtic, rock, punk and jazzy music from the main stage.
Little ones with fluorescent lightsabers and glow sticks bounced to the reels.
Then, in a manner similar to the Times Square ball drop, the 7 p.m. hour neared. The acorn dropped slowly toward the eager crowd, and a fireworks show filled the dark skies with a light show that brought squeals of delight and applause.
Milani Craig, a kindergartner from Raleigh who reminds a stranger not to forget the half that goes with her 5 1/2 years, was thrilled with the show.
At the end, she had a vision for what she hopes will come in 2016.
“More fireworks,” she said.