New York's Thanksgiving Day Parade Flies Low

Nov. 23, 2006— -- Despite the wind and rain that threatened to ground the balloons, the 80th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade went on as scheduled in New York City today, to the delight of an estimated crowd of at least 2 million people.

City officials, worried that the wind might toss the high fliers into the crowd, gave the OK moments before the parade began, after parade organizers agreed to keep the balloons about 17 feet above the street, Jarrod Bernstein, a city spokesman, told The Associated Press.

Before the parade started, it was all about the numbers: 23 and 34. If the winds were sustained at 23 mph , or gusted to 34 mph, no balloons would fly. Fortunately, Mother Nature cooperated, but just barely.

The fear was that swirling winds would ground the big balloons for only the second time in the parade's 80-year history.

Just to be safe, workers in Times Square adjusted light poles to help prevent accidents, and balloon handlers kept the inflatables lower than usual.

"It would have been worth it [without the balloons], but not as special," one woman said.

"The balloons are my favorite," a young girl chimed in.

Sadly, the flying restrictions were put in place after a mishap in 1997 when a Cat in the Hat balloon slammed into a light pole, raining debris into the crowd. A women suffered a fractured skull and was in a coma for weeks. And just last year, two sisters were slightly injured when a giant M&M's balloon snagged a street light and broke part of it off.

Everywhere you looked, delight flashed from faces that lined the streets to catch a giant Snoopy, Scooby-Doo and Sponge Bob, among others.

Between the balloons, marching bands from around the country performed, often flanked by clowns who entertained screeching children. Cast members of "A Chorus Line" and "Dr. Suess' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" entertained the crowd near the Macy's flagship store at 34th Street.

Crowds crammed in from all over the country to experience Thanksgiving, New York-style.

"Nothing is like New York!" a woman who traveled with her family from Boston said.

Few in the crowd were aware that another calamity almost ruined the parade: a worldwide shortage of helium, needed to keep the balloons aloft. Fortunately, organizers secured their allotment months in advance.

Despite the obstacles, the folks at Macy's say they are very happy they were able to pull off their own little "Miracle on 34th street" on this damp Thanksgiving Day.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.