The last-minute decision allowed the event's famous fliers to be part of the annual New York tradition. Dozens of smaller balloons, floats, marching bands, clowns, performers and celebrities also were featured, as well as a handful of "balloonicles" — balloons that are powered by motorized vehicles on the street.
Last year, the average big balloon flew about 22 feet; Thursday, they got no higher than 17 feet, reports CBS News' Michelle Miller.
The weather didn't hamper parade watchers.
Nine-year-old Sarah Barker, waiting for parade to pass her spot at 61st Street and Central Park West, saw the bright side in the parade floats flying a little lower.
"It means a better view," she said.
She wasn't kidding — as Snoopy made his way downtown, one of his paws was almost touching the ground.
Encased in parkas and hoods, the four members of the Castellanos family were on the hunt for a good spot near Herald Square. They had traveled from Baltimore just for the parade and weren't going to be put off by the weather.
"We knew it was going to be bad," mom Lisa Castellanos, 35, said as the parade began. "But we're here already."
The parade kicked off at 9 a.m. with blaring horns and flashing lights from the police escort. Clowns on rollerskates met the crowd, followed by the floats. Down at Herald Square, the crowd was entertained with performances from the cast of "A Chorus Line" and "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"
Even as the raindrops fell, spirits stayed up. Joseph Perkins, from Lebanon, Maine, was glad to be at his first parade. The 13-year-old was looking forward to everything.
"I like the marching and the cheerleaders," he said.
Parade clown Rebecca Deuerlein, wearing a plastic rainslicker over her white clown suit, admitted she was pretty cold, but "I'm having a good time."
The city's Office of Emergency Management, which had closely monitored the weather conditions, decided right before the parade's start that the big balloons could be used safely, according to spokesman Jarrod Bernstein.
The balloons were kept at a height of about 17 feet, he said.
The balloons must be grounded if winds reach 23 mph with gusts stronger than 34 mph, according to city guidelines.
The guidelines were put in place after 45 mph winds at the 1997 parade sent a Cat in the Hat balloon careening into a metal pole. A woman who was hit by falling debris suffered a fractured skull and was in a coma for nearly a month.
During last year's event, a giant M&M's balloon snagged the head of a streetlight and broke it off, sending debris plummeting onto spectators. Two sisters, ages 11 and 26 at the time, were injured. A city task safety task force determined that the accident was a result of discrepancies between parade guidelines and actual conditions along the route.
Even though the weather was a concern, the New York City parade was spared another hassle.
A helium shortage had rattled markets around the world. Macy's locked in its allotment early, but organizers of other Thanksgiving parades around the country had struggled to find suppliers.
"There was an issue as recently as the end of last week," said Bonnie Pear, a spokeswoman for the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade in Chicago, which features 13 giant balloons. "We did not have a supplier that could provide helium." In the end, they received it.