PDX: The Weather Ball

May 16, 2008

An apt topic, giving today’s sudden swelter: The Weather Ball in downtown Portland.

Once I was driving with Mr. Pencil, on the off-ramp from I-5 south, city center exit, and said “Oh, the weather ball says it’s going to rain.”

And Mr. Pencil: “The weather what?

“Surely you know about the weather ball.”

Just a moment ago, I stuck my head out of the office window, and pulled it back in, then closed the window because it is wavery hot out there. It gleams, and hot wind blows in.

“Drat!” I said to Aileen, across the room at her desk. “You can’t see the weather ball from here.”

The weather ball?! What’s the weather ball?

And so it goes. I guess it’s not as common knowledge as I would have assumed.

The weather ball is, well, a ball of sorts (if by “ball” you mean “cube”–it has squared edges) on a pole on a building in downtown Portland. It’s covered in lights. It’s on a squat, dull building–I’m not sure which one. It might be the Unitas building. It might not. It’s near the Standard Insurance Building.

It can tell you one of six things, that is:

  1. It’s going to get hotter (steady red)
  2. It’s going to get colder (steady white)
  3. It’s going to stay about the same (steady green)
  4. (and 5 and 6) It’s going to precipitate (blinking)

Yesterday I imagine it was steady red. I don’t know what it says today because I cannot, as I said, see it. Well, I can see it, by running down the hall to the west end of the building and using the unfinished unit’s view, but it’s so bright I can’t make it out. I think it’s red.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who knows about this. It’s been around a whole lot of long time. I loved it as a child.

According to Wikipedia, it’s one of a whole lot of similar weather beacons in the world.


  1. Josh says:

    Wow that’s crazy! I had no idea this existed.

  2. Don Park says:

    i know what the weather ball is but i never knew how to read it. thanks for the info!

  3. autumn says:

    must admit complete ignorance of the weather ball. -1 portlandia cred team rouse. :(

  4. tODD says:

    Yeah, I’m with Don on this one. I saw it a lot in my time downtown, but thought then it was an ugly decoration on an ugly building.

    How is it not always more convenient for you to look at your computer for weather information? Forecastfox is telling me that not only is it sunny, but several people have died from melting (or that’s what I assume the exclamation point in the red octagon means).

  5. sharon says:

    Heya, cool! I knew that’s what it was called, but I never knew how to understand it; thanks for the key.

    Also, isn’t there a weathervane/barometer that’s functional yet oddly artistic in Pioneer Courthouse Square? Hrm…

  6. Alan I. says:

    In downtown Sacramento, there is the equivalent. The News 10 Weather Tower has the same key for telling passer-by’s the weather conditions. See for yourself at http://www.news10.net/weather/tower-key-lights.aspx.

  7. Fran says:

    Weather ball: Childhood memory. Minneapolis, 1956. (It was installed on a tall bank building in 1949). A brother patiently explaining the code, which is ridiculously simple. So simple that I thought it was nuts that the compositors in The Oregonian’s back shop (back when there was a back shop, before pages were computer generated) kept a note on the bulletin board explaining it. Then they build the PacWest tower on the site of what had been a one-story bank building, and now you can’t see the ball from the third floor anyway.

  8. Maggie says:

    Boston has one too. I wonder if these all will soon become relics of a pre-Internet age…

  9. Mary Sue says:

    A hah! I have wondered about that thing for many months and now I know the sekrit code!

    There was one in Sacramento, CA I remember, but it was varying shades of red for hot, damnhot, and Holyhellit’shot.

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