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Despite Cold, Balloons Fly at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

NEW YORK (AP) — SpongeBob, Charlie Brown and other giant balloons were cleared for takeoff just before a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that began amid blustery winds and some of the coldest temperatures in the event’s history.

The 21 degrees (-6 Celsius) at the start made it one of the coldest Thanksgivings in the city in decades. Forecasts called for sustained winds of up to 20 mph (32 kph) and gusts to 30 mph (48 kph). City officials let the balloons go up, though their height was noticeably lower.

Some of the balloons were flying just a few feet above the people who were holding their tethers. The outstretched hand of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” balloon appeared to hit some of his handlers on their wool cap-covered heads. Bystanders refused to let cold temperatures put a damper on watching the parade, breaking out the blankets and sleeping bags to watch the giant balloons go by.

Despite Cold, Balloons Fly at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

Tony Stout camped out with his extended family since 2 a.m. to make sure they got a good view of his son, who was in the parade with The Ohio State University marching band. They traveled from Columbus, Ohio, for the parade.

“Ohhh, I’m freezing and numb, but excited,” he said. Dylan Mahoney, who has come to the parade every year for the last dozen years, said he stayed warm by layering, including several pairs of socks. “It’s one of the coldest,” he said, but “we’ve watched in the rain before.”

He said he loves the tradition of attending the parade, driving from Leonia, New Jersey, in the early hours to see the bands and balloons and racing for a good spot. Diana Ross, John Legend, Martina McBride and the Muppets from “Sesame Street” were slated to perform in the frigid cold.

Despite Cold, Balloons Fly at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

Thursday has the potential to be New York City’s coldest Thanksgiving since 1901, when the temperature only got as high as 26 degrees (-3.3 Celsius). The coldest on record was in 1871, when the warmest it got was 22 degrees (-5.5 Celsius). The Macy’s parade didn’t start until 1924.

New York City has issued an extreme cold weather alert and is urging anyone going outside to wear hats, scarves, gloves and layered clothing and to keep their fingertips, earlobes, and noses covered to prevent frostbite. Police Commissioner James O’Neill said thousands of officers will be stationed along the parade route. They include counterterrorism teams with long guns, plainclothes officers mixed in with the crowd and a new squad of K-9 teams that can sniff out explosives from a few hundred feet away.

The parade runs 46 blocks from the west side of Central Park to Macy’s flagship store in midtown Manhattan. The parade features about 8,000 marchers, including high school bands from across the country, and two-dozen floats culminating with the arrival of Santa Claus.

Ross, 74, was performing a song from her new Christmas album and was being joined on her float by her some of her family members, including daughter Tracee Ellis Ross, a star of ABC’s “Black-ish,” and actor son Evan Ross. Others in the lineup included Bad Bunny, Kane Brown and Ella Mai, Pentatonix, Rita Ora, Sugarland, Anika Noni Rose, Barenaked Ladies, Leona Lewis, Fifth Harmony’s Ally Brooke, Bazzi, Ashley Tisdale and Carly Pearce.

Watch: Thanksgiving Day 2018: These Stores Will Be Closed

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