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Fly On, Snoopy (And Friends): Macy's Parade Balloons Get All-Clear

NPR | Nov. 28, 2013 6:51 a.m.

Contributed By:

Greg Henderson

Sonic the Hedgehog balloon is inflated Wednesday in New York. The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, which began in 1924, features giant balloons of characters from popular culture floating above the streets of Manhattan. But high winds could ground Sonic and others on Thursday.

Sonic the Hedgehog balloon is inflated Wednesday in New York. The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, which began in 1924, features giant balloons of characters from popular culture floating above the streets of Manhattan. But high winds could ground Sonic and others on Thursday.

Peter Foley, EPA /Landov

Weather in the Northeast could threaten high-flying Thanksgiving plans for Snoopy, Spiderman, Buzz Lightyear, Pikachu, Toothless (the dragon), and Greg (from Diary of a Wimpy Kid). They’re among the 16 giant balloons — some as tall as a five-story building — scheduled to loom over the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

They’re being inflated Wednesday night near the American Museum of Natural History, but could be deflated-before-flight Thursday because of winds forecast to be close to the maximum that New York City will allow for them to fly over the parade route.

Based on past experience (which includes a near fatal 1997 Cat in the Hat incident), the city set limits – 23 mph sustained winds, or gusts of 34 mph – above which the balloons can’t fly. “New York City could see sustained winds between 15 and 25 mph, with gusts up to 35 mph,” said weather.com meteorologist Alan Raymond.

Only once in the annual parade’s nearly nine decades, in 1971, have winds and bad weather grounded the balloons.

But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been other close calls, the kind that come with helium-filled behemoths each requiring dozens of rope-holding handlers to wrestle them along the 2.65-mile-long Manhattan parade route.

As The New York Times recounts: “Felix the Cat once caught fire. Bullwinkle sprung a leak, spewing a blast of helium from his nose yards from the finish line. And giant M&Ms, Sonic the Hedgehog and SpongeBob SquarePants have all crashed into objects on the street.”

The most serious incident was in 1997, when the Cat in the Hat balloon struck a light pole in winds gusting above 40 mph. As The Times wrote back then:

“Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said yesterday that he had directed top aides and police officials to investigate whether tighter regulations should be applied to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, after an accident in which a six-story-high Cat in the Hat balloon knocked down part of a lamppost, injuring four spectators.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press quoted a NYPD official as saying the chances of the balloons flying “looks good,” but a decision on whether to fly would be made Thursday morning by city officials.

With or without the biggest balloons, the parade will go on as scheduled beginning at 9 a.m. at 77th Street and Central Park West. It is being televised on NBC.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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