Wind could ground big bal­loons at NYC’s Thanks­giv­ing pa­rade

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Michael R. Sisak

NEW YORK >> Smokey Bear might feel like he’s bat­tling Santa Ana winds — if he even gets a chance to fly.

New York City’s big Macy’s Thanks­giv­ing Day Pa­rade will take place Thurs­day amid strong winds that could po­ten­tially ground the gi­ant char­ac­ter bal­loons, which have caused mishaps and in­juries in the past when gusts have blown them off course.

The New York City Po­lice Depart­ment is mon­i­tor­ing wind gauges along the 2 1/2 mile pa­rade route and will or­der the 16 he­lium-filled bal­loons to a lower al­ti­tude or have them re­moved en­tirely if wind speeds reach dan­ger­ous lev­els.

That’s only hap­pened once, in 1971.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice is pro­ject­ing sus­tained winds of up to 24 mph with gusts to 40 mph dur­ing the pa­rade.

The iconic char­ac­ters that soar be­tween Man­hat­tan sky­scrapers will be grounded if sus­tained winds ex­ceed 23 mph and gusts ex­ceed 34 mph un­der city rules im­ple­mented af­ter wind blew a “Cat in the Hat” bal­loon into a lamp post near Cen­tral Park in 1997, crit­i­cally in­jur­ing a woman.

“It’ll be a game-day de­ci­sion on what we’re go­ing to do with the bal­loons,” Chief of Depart­ment Ter­ence Mon­a­han said at a Wed­nes­day brief­ing on the po­lice depart­ment’s pa­rade safety mea­sures.

If they’re al­lowed to fly this year, the in­ten­sity of the wind will de­ter­mine how high they soar. Each bal­loon has a dis­tinct risk pro­file, which fac­tors in its size and weight and de­tails the op­ti­mal al­ti­tude for a given wind speed.

The char­ac­ter bal­loons can go as high as 55 feet (15.8 me­ters) off the ground and as low as 10 feet (3 me­ters), said Chief of Pa­trol Rod­ney Har­ri­son, who has the fi­nal say on whether the bal­loons fly.

If the wind picks up and han­dlers strug­gle to keep con­trol of a bal­loon, po­ten­tially putting spec­ta­tors in harm’s way, Har­ri­son said it will be taken to a side street off the pa­rade route and safely de­flated.

“At the end of the day, pub­lic safety is para­mount and we want every­body to en­joy the event,” he said.

Strong winds were also a con­cern last year, but they ended up stay­ing calm enough to let the bal­loons fly — al­beit some at no­tice­ably lower-than-usual heights. The out­stretched hand of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” bal­loon, for one, was so low it ap­peared to hit some of his han­dlers on their wool cap­cov­ered heads.

One bright spot in this year’s fore­cast: the tem­per­a­ture is ex­pected to hit a high of about 53 de­grees.

Last year was one of the city’s cold­est Thanks­giv­ings in decades. A tem­per­a­ture of 21 de­grees (mi­nus 6 Cel­sius) at the start of the pa­rade prompted spec­ta­tors to bun­dle up in blan­kets and sleep­ing bags.

In ad­di­tion to gi­ant bal­loons of Snoopy, Sponge­bob, anti-wild­fire war­rior Smokey and oth­ers, the pa­rade fea­tures about 8,000 marchers, per­for­mances from bands and singers such as Id­ina Men­zel of “Frozen” fame, Kelly Row­land and Chicago, two-dozen floats and a fi­nale with Santa Claus.

The NYPD will have thou­sands of of­fi­cers sta­tioned along the pa­rade route. They in­clude coun­tert­er­ror­ism teams with long guns, plain­clothes of­fi­cers mixed in with the crowd and about three dozen ex­plo­sive de­tec­tion K-9s. The depart­ment also plans to fly a drone to mon­i­tor the pa­rade route.

All spec­ta­tors will be screened with metal de­tec­tors at se­cu­rity check­points. Cer­tain ar­eas near the start and fin­ish are off-lim­its or will have space taken up by stag­ing for NBC’s live broad­cast. Po­lice cars and sand­filled san­i­ta­tion trucks are be­ing po­si­tioned to stop ve­hi­cles from driv­ing into the crowd and tech­nol­ogy is be­ing used to de­tect drones, which are il­le­gal to fly over crowds in New York City.

Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Chief James Wa­ters said the tech­nol­ogy de­tected sev­eral drones fly­ing in the vicin­ity of the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly gath­er­ing in Septem­ber. They were all non-hos­tile, he said.

There are no known, cred­i­ble threats to the city, po­lice said.

A threat posted over the week­end on Red­dit threat­en­ing to bomb Times Square was deemed not cred­i­ble, the po­lice depart­ment said, though it did in­crease coun­tert­er­ror­ism de­ploy­ments to the area out of what it said was an abun­dance of cau­tion.

MARY ALTAFFER — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A bal­loon floats past Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall dur­ing the 92nd an­nual Macy’s Thanks­giv­ing Day Pa­rade in New York.

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