Balloons Fly in Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade
By NATE SCHWEBER and SARAH MASLIN NIR
Published: November 28, 2013
When Iris Guidry’s alarm sounded at 5:45 a.m. Thursday, before a glow of sunrise unveiled a blue sky, she turned on her TV to check the weather for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“I was scared we weren’t going to see the balloons,” said Ms. Guidry, an actress who moved to Edgewater, N.J., from Michigan two months ago and had never before attended the parade.
“This was on my bucket list,” she said. “When you see it on TV you’re like, ‘How do they do it?’ And with the balloons and the weather you think, ‘Oh lord, how are they going to be able to do it?'”
But despite fears that unusually high winds would force their grounding, the giant balloons of characters like SpongeBob SquarePants and Snoopy indeed made their annual march in the parade.
The decision was greeted with relief by the families who lined the streets and endured the bristling cold to take in the spectacle. But the challenges of maneuvering the giant balloons in the high winds were apparent even before the parade began.
While floating in place on 77th Street, the Sonic the Hedgehog balloon was at times wildly flailing, crashing into a tree and sending branches and twigs tumbling down. Shortly afterward, a parade official ordered handlers to significantly lower the balloons.
The decision had been up in the air because of concerns that the winds would exceed the city’s limit for flying balloons, sustained winds of 23 miles per hour and gusts exceeding 34 m.p.h. Those limits were put in place after a Cat in the Hat balloon hit a lamppost at 72nd Street and Central Park West in 1997, knocking down part of the pole and injuring four spectators.
Above the parade route on Thursday, a few wispy, white clouds scooted above the skyscrapers. But on the streets the winds were milder than the cold. Parade watchers blew in their cupped hands and stomped their feet to stay warm. A few shook chemical heat packs as they bunched against the Police Department’s crowd-control fences.
For Robin Andrews and her husband, Bill, the crisp air and sunlight were a balmy relief. They braved rain and sleet a few days earlier, as they rode a three-wheeled motorcycle from Houston to New York.
“This is not as cold as it was on that bike,” said Ms. Andrews, 55, cradling her 4-year-old granddaughter, Isabella Andrews.
The Andrewses drove to New York to spend Thanksgiving with their in-laws. Their son, Christopher Andrews, 36, flew up from Houston with Isabella and his wife, Jessica Moya, 34, a New York native who took on the role of tour guide.
“I enjoyed the parade growing up, and I wanted them to enjoy it, too, but I was worried about the weather,” said Ms. Moya, now an event planner in Houston.
She added that she was particularly concerned whether the balloons would be out.
“That’s the main attraction,” she said. “The balloons.”
Bill Andrews, 64, who retired from the carwash business in Houston and would climb with his wife on the three-wheeled Honda Goldwing in the morning for the long drive back, agreed.
“It wouldn’t be a parade,” he said, “without the balloons.”
Kevin Sullivan, 29, a librarian from Manchester, Conn., craned his neck from the corner of 42nd Street up Avenue of the Americas. On his shoulders sat his 4-year-old niece, Lillian Sullivan, dressed in a silky pink Hello Kitty jacket. Mr. Sullivan had promised her that she would see a giant Hello Kitty balloon.
“It’s my favorite,” she said. “Because I like it.”
Mr. Sullivan flexed his knees, so that Lillian bounced. She said that she was cold, but not too cold.
Jess Sokol, Mr. Sullivan’s wife, explained that they would stay tenacious.
“Are the balloons going to happen?” said Ms. Sokol, 28, a manager. “We’re here regardless.”
Around 9:20 a.m., a Snoopy balloon the size of a city bus appeared, floating over the north end of Avenue of the Americas. The balloons had indeed come out. The faithful let out a cheer.
Pikachu was one of 16 giant balloons that could have been grounded because of high winds.
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A marching band before the parade.
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On the streets, the winds were milder than the cold — perfect for Spider-Man.
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A warm welcome by the Snoopy balloon. Some spectators said the parade wouldn’t be same without the balloons.
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The decision to float the balloons was greeted with relief by the families who lined the streets.
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The parade made its way down Central Park West.
Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
Balloon handlers were able to control their balloons without incident.