Waiting on the Macy's Thanksgiving balloons and gearing up for Black Friday

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Thursday, November 28, 2013 - 9:00am

It's Thanksgiving.

You got where you needed to go. Now, it's time to get what you need to get.

First turkey, then holiday gifts.

Let's start with the weather. It was a bust -- but in a good way.

Except for a few areas where heavy snow fell, this week's wintry storm system was more of a nuisance than anything to most Americans.

Early reports had us thinking flights would be stranded and roads too slick to travel on, especially in the Northeast.

Not quite.

Cold temperatures and blustery winds are the leftovers from this storm.

But they're leftovers that could spoil the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The show must go on

Make no mistake, the parade will go on, organizers say. The question is: Will the event's trademark giant balloons grace the streets of Manhattan?

Let's just say that things are up in the air.

The 16 big balloons will be grounded if sustained winds reach 23 mph or gusts exceed 34 mph.

The overnight forecast says winds will be breezy, out of the west around 22 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph. Winds are supposed to calm during the day, likely in the 11 to 18 mph range, with some higher gusts. A decision will be made at 9 a.m. ET.

"We came all the way from Puerto Rico to see the parade, so it will be a disappointment if we can't see the balloons," said Jose Ramirez, who was in New York with his family.

The same goes for the Mastandano family.

"They have to fly," said Joely Mastandano. "Somebody has to make them fly."

Parade officials do have good reason for being cautious.

In 1997, a woman spent more than three weeks in a coma after the Cat in the Hat balloon -- tossed by heavy winds -- struck a pole that hit her. In 2005, two other people were hurt in a similar incident involving the M&Ms balloon.

Wind gauges will line the route to make sure it's not too breezy, according to New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

"We have a sergeant assigned to each of the balloons," Kelly said. "They can be lowered all the way to the ground."

Michellian Findley says her family will be disappointed if the balloons don't fly, but won't consider the holiday ruined.

"The balloons aren't about Thanksgiving," she said. "It's about fellowship and family, and just being thankful."

Faring well

Planes and trains fared well as the storm slipped to the north. No major delays were reported.

That was good news for people like Latasha Abney, who joined the more than 43 million Americans expected by AAA to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Abney said Wednesday that she arrived more than two hours early at Washington's Reagan National Airport to catch a flight to New York's JFK on Wednesday.

"Security was a breeze," she said. "I walked right up, the TSA agent checked my info ... Happy Thanksgiving!!!!"

Amtrak reported no major delays systemwide. Using the weather as a marketing tool, the nation's rail system was adding seats on some routes.

"Rail travel remains one of the most reliable and comfortable transportation options, especially in weather conditions that negatively impact other modes," Amtrak said.

Deadly roads

Although planes were in the air and trains were on track, automobiles were having a tougher time on the northern fringes of the nation.

Up to a foot of snow fell in parts of Pennsylvania, and it was falling from upstate New York into Canada, where more than a foot was possible. Snow also continued to fly in the central Appalachians and around the Great Lakes as cold air moved in and produced lake-effect snows.

Road conditions were not great in much of the Northeast.

Over the last week, 12 people died, most of them in car crashes, as the storm system iced roads from the Rockies to Texas and Oklahoma. More than 100 vehicles ended up in wrecks.

Black Friday, or is that Thursday?

Travel? Check. Turkey? Check. Now it's time to shop.

All the buzz is about Black Friday, at least for the serious shoppers.

But it's a bit of a misnomer. More and more, Black Friday is becoming Black Thursday.

Kmart is the early bird with a 6 a.m. opening, and will stay open 41 straight hours.

"People don't just want to sit at home all day on Thanksgiving. They want to get out and do things, shop," said Bill Bonsor, the Kmart store manager in Mableton, Georgia. "It's just evolved into a bigger shopping day -- almost as big a shopping day as Black Friday."

Other retailers like Toys R Us, Walmart, Macy's, Kohl's, J.C. Penney and Sears wait until Thursday evening to open their doors.

Electronics are again popular "doorbuster" items. Look for specials on TVs, Kindles, iPads and other tablets.

Not wanting to miss out on such deals, some folks had already pitched tents outside the Best Buy in Burbank, California, on Wednesday.

"It's mainly for the experience," said Gabbie Slayton. "Because it's been a tradition for six years."

A passerby chastised the group for not being home with their families, but Tim Gaze defended the outing.

"So, you're focused on your family, and, if your family all comes to shop, then that's fine."

Gobble, gobble and Happy Thanksgiving.

-- CNN's Jason Carroll, Ben Brumfield, Dave Hennen, Aaron Cooper, Alexandra Field, Shannon Travis and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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