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High Winds Threaten To Ground Giant Balloons In Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now, people all over the country are looking forward to spending time tomorrow with some of their nearest and dearest. And if you are a fan of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, that might mean visiting with a giant floating Snoopy or SpongeBob SquarePants. But Macy's parade regulars might have to spend the day without these characters. High winds are threatening to ground the giant balloons. And to hear more about this, we're joined now by Jen Chung. She's an editor at Gothamist, which is part of member station WNYC.

Hey, Jen.

JEN CHUNG, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: All right, so I'm guessing gigantic balloons thrashing around in the wind is not the safest thing in the world. Is that why Snoopy might get grounded tomorrow?

CHUNG: Exactly. Now, these are huge balloons. I mean, can you imagine a balloon the size of a six-story building coming down the street? That is the tallest balloon.

CHANG: Wow.

CHUNG: Greg from "Diary Of A Wimpy Kid" is 62 feet. And then some of them are really long. One is 77 feet.

CHANG: Oh, my God. OK, so have there been issues in the past when the wind has created dangerous conditions in New York?

CHUNG: Yes. Back in 1997, on a day with 40 mph winds, the "Cat In The Hat" balloon hit a street lamp, which fell over and injured four people, and one woman was in a coma for almost a month.

CHANG: Wow. OK. But that was in 1997, you said.

CHUNG: Right. So right after that, New York City created these firm regulations. So if wind gusts are above 34 mph or there are sustained wind speeds of over 23 mph, the balloons will be grounded.

CHANG: OK. Have balloons ever been grounded since 1997?

CHUNG: No. But back in 2005, even though the conditions were fine for the balloons to be flying, a M&M's balloon hit a street lamp and injured two other people, so the city has also taken more measures to increase training and enhance their wind monitoring.

CHANG: So it's balloons knocking down street lamps that seem to be the recurring hazard.

CHUNG: It is. And so they've also looked at street furniture to see if there's anything they can do and maybe change the route a little.

CHANG: OK. So I imagine officials are keeping a close eye on the weather report tomorrow. Will the balloons be ready to go if officials make a call at the very last minute that everything's going to be OK?

CHUNG: The balloon inflation started this afternoon and continues throughout the evening, so the Macy's parade team has been watching over the balloons. And then overnight, they'll make sure that they're anchored and ready to possibly go tomorrow morning.

CHANG: OK. Now, the parade does start at 9 a.m., but it is a 2.5 mile route - right? This lasts, like, several hours, at least until noon, I understand. So if wind conditions change in the middle of this long procession, then what happens? Can the parade just stop?

CHUNG: So the balloons - so yeah, at all these different intersections, there are wind monitors. There's even a wind monitor with each balloon and someone from the NYPD, so they'll be checking throughout. And if the wind conditions become more dangerous, they're actually going to pull the balloons to a side street, and then they will be safely taken away.

CHANG: That is Gothamist and WNYC editor Jen Chung talking about wind conditions that might sideline some gigantic balloons tomorrow during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Thank you so much, Jen, and have a happy Thanksgiving.

CHUNG: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN ANALOG SET'S "EVERYTHING ENDS IN SPRING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.