AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The nasty storm that's dumping rain and snow from Texas all the way up the East Coast isn't just a mess for Thanksgiving travelers. It's bad news for Spider-Man, Snoopy and Hello Kitty. Those beloved comic characters are fan-favorite balloons in Thanksgiving parades, and the biggest and best known is in New York, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Winds in Manhattan have taken their toll in past years. You've probably seen the news footage, as in 1993.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Rex the dinosaur was blown into a light pole and he popped open. And later, a gust of wind blew Sonic the Hedgehog into another light pole. That guy sprung a leak and fell to the street, knocked over a lamppost. A child and a police officer were hit.
CORNISH: Macy's and the NYPD want to make sure balloons do not cause havoc again. John Piper is head of the Macy's Parade Studio and he's overseeing the inflation teams for this year's balloons on Central Park West. He told us no decision has been made yet on whether to fly them or not tomorrow.
JOHN PIPER: I've learned from the other 32 years of parades that I've done that a forecast is just a forecast.
CORNISH: So Macy's officials wait until Thanksgiving morning and then, and only then, assess weather conditions. And it's not guesswork or intuition. It's all very scientific, says John Piper.
PIPER: For each and every one of the giant character balloons that's in the parade, there is a very extensive flight profile that computes the amounts of drift that the balloon will have at each various wind speed.
CORNISH: Kind of like NASA planning a Mars mission.
PIPER: Snoopy, that might be a different maximum flying height than it is for our brand-new Sponge Bob balloon.
CORNISH: In other cities, planning parades tomorrow, officials are keeping their eyes on the weather too. Tony Michaels is president and CEO of The Parade Company in Detroit.
TONY MICHAELS: The winds will be down to five to seven miles an hour. It'll be cold, about 28 is the high for the day but the winds will not be a problem whatsoever for America's Thanksgiving Parade here in Detroit.
CORNISH: And parade officials in Philadelphia are also keeping alert to the wind. But you can't blame Mother Nature for every epic fail of a big balloon. There was the 2010 parade in Richmond, Virginia, when the giant balloon version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer got snagged on a traffic light. Let's go to the videotape, as posted on YouTube.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Oh. Come on, Rudolph.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Go around.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: No. Don't go further this way. No.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You're tearing Rudolph.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Rudolph's torn.
CORNISH: Oh, the humanity - or rather, oh, the helium-filled vinyl and/or urethane fabric fictional character. Whatever. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.