Like millions of Americans, my daughter and I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Thursday morning. The parade has been largely the same since I was in high school: balloons, floats, marching bands and the first glimpse of Santa Claus. But what I did notice seemed different was that the balloons were flying very low to the ground this year. Unbeknownst to me, Macy’s parade balloons have had to adhere to strict guidelines governing balloon size and flying height based on weather since after the 1997 parade, during which multiple balloon accidents occurred due to extremely strong winds.
One of those accidents was the “death” of Barney the dinosaur at Broadway and 51st Street, a stunning incident captured on video by someone watching from one of the buildings above the street. Footage of the disaster was uploaded to YouTube this summer; you can see it below. It reminds me of the scene from Ghostbusters when the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is stomping all over Manhattan, then gets destroyed. Listen for the shocked reactions from the crowd as the balloon sways all over the street and the amusing commentary by the family doing the filming:
Due to high winds this year, city officials decided only yesterday morning that the parade could continue with its famed balloons, NPR reported. They noted, “Based on past experience (which includes a near fatal 1997 Cat in the Hat incident), the city set limits 23 mph sustained winds, or gusts of 34 mph above which the balloons can’t fly.” Also, “Only once in the annual parade’s nearly nine decades, in 1971, have winds and bad weather grounded the balloons.”
Several accidents have occurred involving balloons during the years since 1924 when the parade first streamed down Broadway, and after the Cat in the Hat balloon caused a lamppost to fall on four people, leaving one of the women in a coma for a month, city officials determined that the once high-flying balloons would have to be carried low to the ground during the type of wintry weather parade-goers endured yesterday. USA Today reports that “In 2005, an M&M balloon knocked over a streetlight that injured two sisters,” and that yesterday Sonic the Hedgehog “got caught on a tree while rounding a corner near the start of the parade route,” but “handlers used cutters on a rope to free the balloon.” The Sonic balloon had previously crashed in 1993, knocking into a light pole and causing a lamppost to fall onto a police officer and a child. Neither was seriously hurt. For Sonic, however, it was Game Over.