NEW YORK -- Thousands of spectators, undeterred by wind and rain, held umbrellas and wore raincoats as they crowded Manhattan streets to see Big Bird, Snoopy, and other signature balloons and floats of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The weather, however, prompted city officials to order the balloons flown lower than usual, none rising beyond 17 feet, for safety.
That didn't seem to bother 9-year-old Sarah Barker. "It means a better view," she said.
Parade organizers and city officials were relieved that there were no mishaps. They had stressed safety precautions after last year's parade, when two sisters were injured by falling debris when a streetlight snagged a balloon.
Stormy weather marked annual Thanksgiving celebrations in many parts of the nation.
The Bushes spent the holiday at Camp David. The White House said guests of the president and Laura Bush included Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Bush called 10 members of the armed forces, from California to Iraq, to wish them a happy Thanksgiving and thank them for their service.
New York officials made their decision to use the giant balloons just before the 9 a.m. start of the parade, basing it on information from the National Weather Service and newly installed wind-measuring instruments along the route.
The balloons, most filled with helium, have been grounded just once in the parade's 80-year history, in 1973.
Wind gusts reached 17-21 miles per hour yesterday. City guidelines call for grounding the parade's giant balloons if winds reach 23 miles per hour and gusts exceed 34 miles per hour. Those rules were put in place after 45 mile-per-hour winds caused a Cat in the Hat balloon to hit a metal pole during the 1997 parade, leaving a woman in a coma.
This year, Garfield, Ronald McDonald, Scooby-Doo, and SpongeBob SquarePants were among the many inflatable characters that took flight.
The parade also offered 33 floats with various themes, including Charlotte's Web and Barbie, almost a dozen marching bands from across the country, and celebrities including singers Barry Manilow and Gloria Estefan.
In front of the Macy's flagship store at Herald Square, the crowd watched performances from the casts of "A Chorus Line" and "Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"
Denise Walker, 47, drove with her husband for two days from their home in Clinton, Tenn., to see the parade, something she wanted to do in life, she said.
"It's been great," Walker said. "It's been all I expected, and more."
Some people huddled under the big signs on Broadway, or sought refuge in the few stores that remained open . Parade participants, many of them wearing outfits unsuited for November weather in New York City, were visibly shivering.
"We're cold and wet, but we're having fun," said Alana Mozley, 17, a cheerleader from Nevada.