NEW YORK, N.Y. - The weather is looking up for Snoopy, Spidey and the rest of the giant balloons that take to the skies for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The New York Police Department official who decides whether the balloons are allowed to fly said Wednesday he's optimistic that nasty weather will clear up in time for the iconic inflatables to get airborne, though a final determination will be made Thursday morning.
"It looks good," said NYPD Chief of Patrol James Hall, attending an inspection of the 16 large balloons including Snoopy, Spider-Man and SpongeBob SquarePants that are a hallmark of the annual parade. "It looks very good."
A storm bringing the East Coast a messy mix of snow, rain and wind could still ground the giant balloons. The iconic characters that soar between the Manhattan skyscrapers every year cannot lift off Thursday if sustained winds exceed 23 mph and gusts exceed 34 mph, according to city rules enacted after fierce winds in 1997 caused a Cat in the Hat balloon to topple a light pole and seriously injure a woman spectator.
Current forecasts call for sustained winds of 20 mph and gusts of 36 mph.
Hall said Thursday each balloon will be manned by between 30 and 60 handlers who train throughout the year in large parking lots throughout New York and New Jersey — including in the Meadowlands sports complex in New Jersey where the New York Giants football team plays.
"If there's something I see that I don't like, I can say lower the balloon and I can say remove the balloon but, you know, I think really at the latest reports that we've gotten from the National Weather Service, I think we're gonna be in good shape tomorrow," he said.
During the parade, each balloon is accompanied by an NYPD supervisor and is tethered to a vehicle, officials said. If the balloons are cleared to fly and then winds suddenly pick up, they'll be lowered immediately, steered to a side street where handlers will then deflate them, Hall said.
Hillary Barber, 30, visiting from Chattanooga, Tenn., was watching the balloons get inflated on Manhattan's Upper West Side on Wednesday and said she was planning on watching the parade despite chilly and wet weather.
"I'm going to stay in the cold, and watch the whole thing," she said. "It's amazing. I've grown up watching the parade."
Balloons have only been grounded once in the parade's 87-year history, when bad weather kept them from flying in 1971.
The parade was awash in animal-related protests over its floats, with controversies involving the unlikely pairing of rocker Joan Jett and Shamu the killer whale.
Activists planned to line the parade route to protest a SeaWorld float over accusations in a new documentary that the theme parks treat whales badly. And ranchers succeeded in getting Jett pulled off the South Dakota tourism float after they questioned why the vegetarian and animal-rights ally was representing their beef-loving state.
SeaWorld says the accusations have "absolutely no basis" and that "the men and women who care for these animals at SeaWorld are dedicated in every respect to their health and well-being."
Macy's said the parade does not engage in social commentary or political debate.