NEW YORK (AP) — The fate of Spider-Man, SpongeBob SquarePants and Snoopy rests in the hands of the New York Police Department.
The 16 giant balloons that fly between Manhattan skyscrapers during the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade may be grounded if windy conditions from a storm that snarled holiday travel along the East Coast pick up Thursday morning — and the final determination will be made by the NYPD.
The iconic characters cannot lift off if sustained winds top 23 mph and gusts exceed 34 mph, according to city rules enacted after fierce winds in 1997 caused a Cat in the Hat balloon to topple a light pole and seriously injure a spectator. Balloons have only been grounded once in the parade's 87-year history, when bad weather kept them from flying in 1971.
On Wednesday, NYPD Chief of Patrol James Hall said the latest weather reports looked good for takeoff, stressing that balloon handlers were trained in maneuvering, lowering and deflating wayward inflatables if need be.
"If there's something I see that I don't like, I can say lower the balloon and I can say remove the balloon but, you know, I think really at the latest reports that we've gotten from the National Weather Service, I think we're going to be in good shape tomorrow," he said.
Amy Kule, the parade's executive producer, said the 3.5 million spectators who gather to watch the annual affair would see a parade that includes floats, 900 clowns and 40 smaller balloons, no matter what happens with the weather.
A wet and blustery storm along the East Coast made driving hazardous and tangled up hundreds of flights Wednesday but didn't cause the all-out gridlock many Thanksgiving travelers had feared. The storm for the most part unleashed wind-driven rain along the Northeast's heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor from Richmond, Va., to the tip of Maine.
Elsewhere in the country, Thanksgiving traditions were unaffected by the weather.
In Washington on Wednesday, President Barack Obama pardoned two 38-pound turkeys named Popcorn and Caramel, fulfilling the annual presidential tradition.
In a holiday edition of his weekend radio and Internet address, Obama gave thanks for the country's founders, the generations who followed, and members of the military, and their families, for the sacrifices they make.
He expressed gratitude for the freedoms service members defend, including speech, religion and the right to choose America's leaders. And he had kind words for those who work to make America a more compassionate place.
Also Wednesday, two American astronauts on board the International Space Station, Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio, released a video from 260 miles above Earth showing off their traditional Thanksgiving meal: irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized yams, cornbread dressing, potatoes, freeze-dried asparagus, baked beans, bread, cobbler and dehydrated green bean casserole.
Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein, Jim Kuhnhenn and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.