NEW YORK (AP) — How high will they fly?
That’s the question Thursday morning for the giant balloons at the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Parade officials and the New York Police Department are keeping an eye on wind gauges along the 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) parade route that snakes through Manhattan.
Outgoing NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said Thursday morning he’s “optimistic,” but that officials won’t make a decision about whether the balloons will fly in the parade until right before it starts.
If wind speeds reach dangerous levels, the 16 helium balloons — including Smokey Bear and Snoopy — could be brought down to float at a lower level or 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.
NYPD Chief of Police Rodney Harrison has the final say on whether the balloons fly, and how high.
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.