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Thanksgiving parade balloons could be grounded by high winds: NYPD

Wind gusts are forecasted for as high as 34 mph.

Rodney Harrison, NYPD chief of patrol, describes Tuesday how the department plans to monitor winds and decide whether specific balloons can fly Thursday in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade — and how high. (Credit: Newsday / Matthew Chayes)

Balloons could be grounded at Thursday's annual Thanksgiving Day Parade because of heavy winds, the NYPD’s chief of patrol said Tuesday.

The NYPD will deploy devices along the parade route to monitor wind speeds, and could order handlers to lower or remove balloons accordingly in wind speeds of at least 23 mph and gusts of at least 34 mph, Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison said at a news conference in Manhattan at police headquarters.

The National Weather Service is calling for a blustery day, "with a northwest wind around 23 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph."

"Thirty-four mile per hour wind gusts is when we say, 'OK, we gotta bring it all the way down to the ground,' " Harrison said. "If we have to call an audible on the day of, and make an adjustment, we’ll do so." 

Balloons include 53-foot-high Pikachu from the Pokémon franchise, a 67-foot-high Ronald McDonald and a 46-foot high Pillsbury Doughboy, according to the Macy's parade website.

The parade dates to 1924. The last time balloons were grounded due to high winds was in 1971.

Grounding balloons in winds of at least 23 mph and gusts of least 34 mph has been city policy since after a 1997 Thanksgiving parade accident in which a six-story-tall Cat in the Hat balloon careened into a lamppost made of cast-steel, slicing off part of it and injuring four, including one victim who remained in a coma for two weeks. 

There has been at least one accident since, however, including in 2005 when a giant M&M balloon swung out of control because of wind and injured two spectators.

At Tuesday's news conference, Harrison said each balloon has its own guidelines for when and how high it can safely fly.

The parade starts at 9 a.m. at 77th Street and Central Park West and concludes at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue, by Macy’s.

To prevent a vehicle from plowing into crowds, the NYPD is banning cars and trucks from crossing the parade route, and deploying sand-filled blocker trucks. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said there is no specific threat against the parade. 

John Miller, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, warned spectators not to fly drones during the parade, even just to take pictures. Violators could face a summons or arrest for the crime of reckless endangerment under city law.

"Don’t bring your drone. Don’t fly your drone over a big crowd in Manhattan," Miller said. "You’re probably not going to be going home with it."

He said the NYPD has the technology to locate where and what is controlling the drone, and can "take action" against a drone thought to be a threat. He declined to say how exactly that would happen, but said it wouldn’t be shot out of the air.

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