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Strong winds may ground biggest balloons at parade

AP • Nov 27, 2013 at 9:03 AM

NEW YORK — The fate of the world’s most famous balloons is up in the air.

There

will be marching bands from across the country, clowns toting confetti

catapults and floats carrying chart-topping musical stars when the 87th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade makes its way down Central Park West on Thursday. But weather predictions calling for strong winds mean that Snoopy and his helium-filled pals might not make it.

Winds

of at least 23 mph are expected Thanksgiving Day, with gusts up to 45

mph expected, according to the National Weather Service. After a Cat in

the Hat balloon hit a lamp post in 1997, knocking a portion down and

injuring four spectators, an investigation led to city guidelines that

stipulate maximum balloon sizes and wind speeds.

If the wind blows at 23 mph or more, and gusts reach 34 mph, SpongeBob and the biggest of his inflatable brethren will be grounded.

The decision on floating the big balloons will be made by several agencies, based on weather conditions Thanksgiving morning.

The nightlong ritual of inflating the balloons will go on, said John Piper, the vice president of Macy’s Parade Studio, who works year-round crafting the balloons with a full-time team of 26 in Moonachie, N.J.

But if the wind howls as predicted, they won’t be paraded. The balloons will be unzipped and deflated and sent back to New Jersey.

The wind

rules only apply to the group of 16 giants, like Pikachu and

Spider-Man. The less celebrated, smaller balloons, like a baseball and a

smattering of star shapes, still have a chance if the weather gets bad.

Should the biggest balloons launch, each would be assigned a police sergeant, equipped with monitors to measure the wind speed during the parade, along with the usual team of handlers.

“We’ve done a lot of training on this,” said Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

Kelly himself has firsthand experience: As a teenager he manned the ropes of a giant turkey balloon while working part time for Macy’s, long before the wind rules were drawn up.

“Those were the days when you really had to hold on,” said Kelly, 72.

The only time the giant balloons were grounded was in 1971, according to a Macy’s

spokesman. Accidents, possibly wind-related, have occurred, including a

2005 incident when a listing M&M balloon took down a light pole,

injuring two sisters. In a similar episode, in 1993, Sonic the Hedgehog

caused an accident that left an off-duty Suffolk County police captain

with a broken shoulder.

Despite the risks, many hope the famous characters make it aloft.

“It’s

going to be a very sad day if the balloons don’t even make it down the

street,” said Murray Potash, 69, an accountant from Plainview, N.Y., who

is taking his grandchildren, Reese, 6, and Casey, 4, to their first

Thanksgiving parade.

But, he added. “It

will give me more of a desire to wait for 365 more days to go back and

be there again. You have to see the balloons once before you die.”