It’s one of the best parts of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade — the balloons. But it requires a lot of cooperation from the weather.
In order for the balloons to make a tethered flight down the parade route, sustained winds need to be less than 23 miles per hour, and gusts slower than 34 miles per hour. There are seven anemometers (instruments used to measure wind speed and direction) placed along the parade route to monitor winds throughout the event.
IN-DEPTH: These wind thresholds were put in place after an accident in 1997 left four people injured when the ‘Cat in the Hat’ balloon, battling 40 mile per hour winds, hit a lamp post.
This year, there are 16 character balloons of various weights and sizes. Weather observation devices will be used at each balloon to determine at what height it can fly (if at all). A designated meteorologist is also on site to monitor weather conditions before and during the parade.
This year’s forecast: hit-or-miss
This year’s forecast is concerning as a strong low pressure system moving east from the Great Lakes into the Northeast will pull strong northwest winds over New York City. Sustained winds are expected to be anywhere from 18-26 miles per hour with gusts up to 40 miles per hour possible.
The official call as to whether to ground the balloons has not been made as of midday Wednesday…. and parade authorities say it will likely come down to a ‘morning-of’ decision.
Grounded balloons in years past
On record, there have been 4 years without balloons in the parade. Somewhat surprisingly, 1971 is the only year on record where cold, wet and windy weather kept the balloons from inflating. The other three years (1942, 1943, 1944) did not feature balloons due to a shortage of rubber and helium during World War II.