LOWELL -- For the first time in the last three years, Lowell's annual Winterfest festival will actually feel like a winter festival instead of the "Springfest" that Lowell's director of cultural affairs jokingly says he and his staff called it.
The forecast for opening night, which is tonight, looks to be a mostly clear and cool night with temperatures just above freezing. Saturday's forecast is better, with cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-30s -- a far cry from the 50 degrees of Winterfests past.
"We'll miss that," Henri Marchand said. "But it will be nice. That'll be perfect for this time of year."
Some of Winterfest's most-popular attractions are perfect for frosty weather.
Winterfest's opening ceremony will occur at 5 p.m., just as the sun begins to set and the air takes on a chill. Fire Gypsy Stilt Walking will be on from 5 to 7 p.m., and there will be a general fire show put on by the Fire Gypsy at 7:30 p.m. Marketplaces, the ice-skating rink and live music will also be set up from 5 until closing for the night at 10.
The second and final day of Winterfest runs Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Visitors have the Chocolate Festival, hay-wagon rides and children's entertainment to look forward to.
Marchand said the weekend's weather will be perfect for the carousel, which he calls the "centerpiece" of the festival.
"It's always great when you can get on a carousel in the middle of winter," he said.
Another "huge draw" for Winterfest is the annual soup competition, named for late restaurateur Richard Rourke. It currently boasts 15 vendors, the newest addition being downtown restaurant Life Alive, and will take place Saturday, from noon to 2:30 p.m., at the Masonic Center on Arcand Drive. Attendees will pay $6 and taste some of the best soup of local eateries.
For those who want to work off all that soup later, there is an artificial rink that will be set up in the JFK Plaza that was enormously popular at last year's Winterfest. There is a limited number of skates available for rental, but people may bring their own to the festivities.
Adults can escape the cold in two tents set up for live music and warm up with classic hot beverages that pack a bit of a surprise.
Marchand said the snowfall Lowell received Wednesday night has hardly affected festivities. He said cleanup crews were working hard to prep Arcand Drive for tonight's winter fun.
"Winterfest provides a wonderful cure for midwinter cabin fever," Mayor William Samaras said.