NEW YORK (AP) — The beloved balloons were flying, if lower than usual, as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began after an anxious weather watch Thursday morning.
Astronaut Snoopy, a new version of a longtime parade favorite, was among the giant inflated characters leading the lineup.
Parade officials and the New York Police Department had been keeping an eye on wind gauges along the 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) parade route that snakes through Manhattan. The balloons aren’t allowed to fly if it’s too windy.
But Macy’s Vice President Susan Tercero made an announcement a half-hour before the parade started that the balloons would fly, albeit at a lower level.
If wind speeds reach dangerous levels, the 16 helium balloons — including Smokey Bear and Snoopy — could still be taken out of the parade. The balloons have only been grounded once for weather-related reasons, in 1971.
The National Weather Service is projecting sustained winds of up to 24 mph (39 kph) with gusts to 40 mph (64 kph) during the parade.
City rules require balloons to be grounded if sustained winds exceed 23 mph (37 kph) and gusts exceed 34 mph (55 kph).
The parade, one of the city’s most popular events, features about 8,000 marchers, two dozen floats, and marching bands, ending with an appearance from Santa Claus.
Among the performers scheduled for this year are actor Billy Porter of “Pose,” and singers Celine Dion, Ciara, Kelly Rowland and Idina Menzel.
The character balloons can go as high as 55 feet (16 meters) off the ground and as low as 10 feet (3 meters).
The rules requiring them to be grounded in high-wind conditions came after wind blew a “Cat in the Hat” balloon into a lamppost near Central Park in 1997, critically injuring a woman.
In 2005, eight years after the “Cat and the Hat” went off course, an M&M’s balloon smacked into a lamppost in Times Square, causing cuts and bruises to a woman in a wheelchair and her 11-year-old sister.
In 2017, a gust on an otherwise calm day sent a smaller balloon into a tree branch. That one popped and fell harmlessly onto the crowd.