All over the country, committees are coming up empty as they try to get Thanksgiving parade plans off the ground.
That's because there's a shortage of helium. How will that affect Houston's big turkey day display? Susan Moriarty, the director of Houston's HEB Holiday Parade, has called all over the country, trying to get her hands on helium.
"Yes indeed," Moriarty said, laughing. "You'd be amazed at the calls I made."
Nothing breathes life into fun, fantastic floats quite like a billowing balloon blowing high above. So what happens when the helium tanks are all empty?
"We've been out since March. There's been a shortage," said Ron Sobocinski with Party Boy party supply store on Studemont in the Heights.
At Party Boy they haven't been able to buy their normal supply of helium tanks. So they're not selling the small disposable tanks.
"I had no idea. I'm just having a baby shower for my son's wife," says Kathi Groom who found out she couldn't buy the helium tank after dragging it to the register.
Party supply stores all over the country have had to raise floating balloon prices by about five bucks each and they are now using the tiny tanks to fill balloon orders. The cute little canisters once stocked shelves to sell to customers. The stores normally go through about fifteen of their regular sized helium tanks in a week. Now that they're using the small guys, we watched them go through four of them in less than three hours. That makes for massive amounts of waste and still hardly any helium. "It's Hello Kitty," shouts a bright eyed 3-year-old as the big beautiful balloon is blown up for her birthday.
The helium that fills the baby's balloon is nothing compared to what is needed for the holiday parade. "We use about twenty-two-thousand cubic feet. It's six twelve packs (of the big tanks)," explains Moriarty.
So will Houston's Thanksgiving Day Parade fall flat without helium? "It would be a lot of marching bands and other entertainment. We would be able to pull it off but the helium balloons are so fantastic and have such a presence flying high up in the sky it would be sad not to have them," says Moriarty. Fortunately, it looks like we will have helium for the big day. There is one supplier that is agreeing to sell helium for Houston's HEB Holiday Parade on Thanksgiving morning in downtown Houston. "I am biting my nails until it's a done deal," smiles Moriarty.
Hospitals are getting first dibs on helium since massive amounts are used for MRI's. So how much longer will helium be in short supply? "They said November but November is here and almost gone. Probably the first of the year, maybe even later," estimate Sobocinski.
"Hopefully next year it's not an issue," says Moriarty. What caused the shortage? Well, the Texas panhandle is said to be the helium capital of the country but production is way down. So if you happen to have some helium on hand, use it sparingly.