Balloon handlers wait for protective netting to be removed from the Sonic the Hedgehog balloon before the 87th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
(Photo: John Minchillo, AP)
Snoopy, SpongeBob SquarePants and Toothless the dragon are getting their time in the sky on Thursday as Macy's allowed balloons to fly in its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade despite concerns over weather conditions.
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Those Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons - and 13 other giant balloons - were threatened with grounding if sustained winds exceeded 23 mph and gusts exceeded 34 mph.
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But the New York Police Department decided Thursday morning that the winds were calm enough for the 16 giant character balloons to lift off.
"We thought they'd find a way to pull it off," said parade-goer John Mispagel, of San Jose, Calif. "It's really fun seeing so many people having such a great time."
Balloon handlers were keeping a tight grip on their inflated characters and held them fairly close to the ground in tree-lined areas.
Mispagel and his wife, Susan, said Sonic the Hedgehog got caught on a tree while rounding a corner near the start of the parade route; handlers used cutters on a rope to free the balloon.
The cheering throngs were bundled against a 30-degree chill, but the sun was shining. Some in the crowd lifted small children onto their shoulders.
An excited 9-year-old Lily Thomolaris, of Pittsburgh, was excited to "see all the balloons." But she especially thought a big turkey was really cool.
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Balloons have only been grounded once in the parade's 87-year history, when bad weather kept them from flying in 1971.
Weather has caused parade organizers - and watchers - troubles in the past. In 1997, winds drove a Cat in the Hat balloon into a metal pole. The ensuing damage left a woman in a coma for almost a month before she recovered. In 2005, an M&M balloon knocked over a streetlight that injured two sisters.
After the 1997 accident, Macy's worked with New York City and "participated in a full review of the incident," says Macy's spokesman Orlando Veras. The new wind guidelines where put into place after that review.
Following the 2005 incident, Macy's updated "its system of monitoring weather patterns at different heights at key points on the route," says Veras.
In addition to weather issues, controversy is swirling around two floats.
Animal rights activists are upset that a SeaWorld float, which features two 27-foot orcas, is joining the parade. They claim SeaWorld doesn't treat its whales well.
SeaWorld says the accusations have "absolutely no basis" and that "the men and women who care for these animals at SeaWorld are dedicated in every respect to their health and well-being."
And ranchers were rankled that singer Joan Jett was slated to perform on the South Dakota tourism float, saying the vegetarian and animal-rights activist wasn't a good representative for their beef-producing state. She will still be in the parade, just not on that float.
Macy's said the parade does not engage in social commentary or political debate.
Wind and politics aside, the balloons were inflated on Manhattan's Upper West Side on Wednesday.
More than 50 million people are expected to see at least part of the parade on TV or live.
There will be 30 full-size floats, 11 marching bands, 900 clowns and 1,600 cheerleaders and dancers.