NEW YORK — A storm bearing down on the East Coast with a messy mix of snow, rain and wind is threatening to ground giant balloon versions of Snoopy and SpongeBob SquarePants in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The iconic characters that soar between the Manhattan skyscrapers every year may not lift off Thursday if sustained winds exceed 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 woman spectator.
Current forecasts call for sustained winds of 20 mph and gusts of 36 mph.
"At this time, it is too early to make any determinations on the flight of the giant balloons," said Macy's spokesman Orlando Veras. "On Thanksgiving morning, Macy's works closely with the NYPD, who, based on real time weather data and the official regulations, determine if the balloons will fly and at what heights."
Balloons have only been grounded once in the parade's 87-year history, when bad weather kept them from flying in 1971. They're set to be inflated in Manhattan on Wednesday evening.
The parade was awash in animal-related protests over its floats, with controversies involving the unlikely pairing of rocker Joan Jett and Shamu the killer whale.
Activists planned to line the parade route to protest a SeaWorld float over accusations in a new documentary that the theme parks treat whales badly. And ranchers succeeded in getting Jett pulled off the South Dakota tourism float after they questioned why the vegetarian and animal-rights ally was representing their beef-loving state.
SeaWorld says the accusations have "absolutely no basis" and that "the men and women who care for these animals at SeaWorld are dedicated in every respect to their health and well-being."
Macy's said the parade does not engage in social commentary or political debate.