Will Thanksgiving Day Parade's balloons be grounded by high winds?

The wild weather hammering the East Coast could leave some of the biggest stars of Thanksgiving on the sidelines. Strong wind threatens to take the air right out of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons.

Every Thanksgiving morning, more than 50 million people tune in to watch New York’s famous parade, but this year the historic procession could be missing some iconic faces. Helium-filled versions of America’s favorite characters annually make the trek through Manhattan.

But bad weather is threatening to bring big gusts in the city; the National Weather Service says New York could see winds of up to 37 mph Thursday.

Those high winds have made navigating balloons down Broadway risky business. They become unstable and are prohibited in winds above 23 mph or gusts of 34 mph. Ultimately the decision to ground the balloons won't be made until the morning. 

"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,” a Macy’s spokesperson told CBS News.

Macy's began taking extra precautions to secure balloons after a 1997 incident involving The Cat in the Hat.

Forty-three mph winds blew the inflated feline into a lamppost. Parts of it seriously injured a woman below.

In 2005, two sisters were caught in a similar incident. Today, each balloon is walked by about 100 handlers, accompanied by one NYPD sergeant. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said officers are prepared.

“We've done a lot of training on this. We have experience doing it. We have a sergeant assigned to each balloon,” said Kelly.

If the parade starts as scheduled, this will be its 89th march, but if it goes on without its iconic balloons that will be only the second time in its history it does so. The last time the balloons didn't fly was in 1971 because of torrential rains.