Enormous character balloons became a staple of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1927, when silent-era cartoon feline Felix the Cat first took the skies above New York City’s west side for the first time. These days, floating replicas of everyone from Snoopy to Goku to the Pillsbury Doughboy appear between the floats and Broadway musical pop-ups.
But this year, the fleet was nearly grounded. As of just a few hours before the show, the 2019 Thanksgiving parade, which airs at 9 a.m. EST on NBC, was set to run without a single balloon.
The potential rain on this year’s parade was actually a wind issue. Macy’s Thanksgiving balloons range from around 43 to 72 feet long, with a Smokey the Bear, the shortest at 16 feet, standing 51 feet tall. Due to their size, New York City guidelines restrict the department store chain from flying the balloons in sustained wind conditions exceeding 23 mph and wind gusts exceeding 34 mph on the route.
On Thursday morning, the National Weather Service reported winds around 14 mph and gusts of 25 mph, giving the parade organizers the go-ahead to hoist giant versions of the red Power Ranger and Aflac Duck on 6th Avenue. According to the NYPD, most balloons will float around 15 to 20 feet in the air for safety reasons.
A balloon-less parade is a rare occasion. The 2019 celebration would have marked the first time Macy’s grounded the balloons since 1971, when a nor’easter wreaked havoc on celebrations (and travel plans) up and down the East Coast. Macy’s also canceled the parade between 1942 and 1944 due to rubber and helium shortages during World War II. The company would go so far as to scrap the balloons and donate over 650 pounds of rubber to the war effort.
Since an incident in 1997, when winds blew a Cat and the Hat balloon off course and injured four people, authorities haven’t take any chances. Still, despite early forecasts predicting the grounding of the balloons, a representative for Macy’s say the call would only be made by NYPD and the store’s officials on Thursday morning.
“Each [balloon] is designed to fly at different heights and angles based on their shape and scale and the exact wind conditions along the route,” the representative told Polygon. “We have a number of weather operations in place, which include continuous monitoring of conditions on site by a licensed meteorologist, who is also in direct communication with the National Weather Service. Along the Parade route there are several wind monitoring stations. In addition, the assistant pilot on each giant balloon carries a wind meter, which is also monitored by an NYPD representative.”
The 2019 parade introduces a handful of new balloons alongside the classic line-up. Attractions included a twofer of Spongebob and Gary the Snail; a float inspired by Netflix’s new animated Dr. Seuss series Green Eggs and Ham; Astronaut Snoopy, the eighth version of the character to appear in the parade (honoring both the 1969 moon landing and, covertly, Apple TV Plus’ Snoopy in Space); and “Love Flies Up in the Sky,” an enormous sun balloon designed by iconic artist Yayoi Kusama, and adorned with 300 hand-painted dots.
All of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloons take test flights, offering onlookers to behold their glory in the weeks before the big day. Whether they flew in the 2019 parade or not, balloon fans would be able to get a full look at the newbies thanks to photographers on the ground.