Strong winds could ground the famous balloons used in the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City this week. This could be the first time since 1971 that balloons were grounded from the parade.
A potent storm system moving through the northeast is responsible for the strong winds. A vigorous upper low will track into southeastern Canada Wednesday night, steering a surface low across across northern New England and off the New England coast by Thursday. The low will drag a cold front through the northeast on Wednesday evening, shifting winds to the west and northwest Wednesday night. As the low deepens off the coast on Thursday, winds will veer to the northwest and increase in intensity. Wind speeds of 20-30 mph with gusts 35-45 mph are likely during the day due to this atmospheric set-up.
High winds in the 1997 Thanksgiving Parade led to new regulations that are now in effect that would prevent the balloons from traveling out in the current forecast winds. A balloon in the shape of “The Cat in the Hat” hit a lamp post at Central Park West and 72nd Street, knocking parts of the light onto the crowd. The incident injured four people, including Kathleen Caronna, who was put into a month-long coma from the mishap. She sued Macy’s and the city for $395 million, but settled for an undisclosed amount in 2001.
Due to the high wind conditions in 1997, new parade rules took effect in 1998. The main rule was a size restriction, prohibiting balloons larger than 70 feet in height, 78 feet in length, or 40 feet in width from being in the parade. As a result of that chance, large balloons like Bugs Bunny, The Pink Panther, Woody Woodpecker, and Bart Simpson were retired.
The 1998 rule change wasn’t enough to prevent another accident. In 2005, due to the high winds, the M&M’s balloon went out of control and caught on a streetlight, knocking debris onto parade watchers who suffered minor injuries. With that accident, New York City implemented new rules prohibiting the balloons from appearing during very heavy rains or in sustained winds higher than 23mph, and/or wind gusts higher than 34mph.
With the National Weather Service forecasting winds of 20-30 mph sustained with wind gusts in the 35-45mph range, it is likely the parade balloons will be grounded. In heavy rain and strong winds in 1971, parade organizers removed the balloons from the parade due to concerns about safety then. Not since then have the balloons ever been grounded.
As the low pressure departs the northeast after Thanksgiving, the weather pattern will become interesting. The stage could be sent for the possibility of a coastal snowstorm for the New York City area later Sunday and Monday. The American GFS , European ECMWF, and Canadian CMC forecast models all suggest the possibility of snow in the northeast to kick-off the first work week in December, but they differ on the position and strength of the low. Of the bunch, the American GFS is the most bullish for snow in the Big Apple. However, it is still too soon to say with a high degree of confidence nor certainty whether such a winter storm will actually unfold in the days after Thanksgiving in the northeast.