Saturday, July 19, 2014

Weather Machine

If you've ever been in Portland's Weather Machine in Pioneer Courthouse Square at precisely noon, you may have noticed the square's Weather Machine. It's the tall column next to Starbucks, and at noon it wakes up, plays a fanfare, spins around a bit, and pops up a sculpture based on the next day's predicted weather. Its Smithsonian inventory page explains:

A tall pole topped with a sphere containing three weather symbols that represent typical weather conditions in the Portland area. Each day at noon there is a two-minute sequence of music and the weather symbols appear --Helia (A stylized sun, for clear sunny days); Blue Heron (For the days of drizzle, mist and transitional weather); Dragon (For stormy days of heavy rain and winds.

Apparently the weather forecast part involves someone in the square office calling the national weather service and asking. Or at least historically that's been the case; you'd think this could be automated. It's fun to imagine the phone conversations though. I imagine the same two people having a routine phone call every morning since 1986 or so. Maybe there's small talk, maybe they've become lifelong friends through the weather machine. Or maybe it's a brief cryptic conversation every day, a voice you've heard every day for 25 years and know nothing about. Or maybe they've grown to resent each other and this daily chore over the years, and it's an "Oh, it's you again" sort of conversation.

Will Martin, the square's overall designer, thought the place needed a whimsical "weather machine", but he died in a tragic plane crash before he could explain what he had in mind. The city got as far as designing the pillar here, and then held a design competition to decide what sort of weather contraption. to put on top of it. Here's a timeline, via the library's Oregonian newspaper archives:


Max said...

Thanks for the research. I've never quite been able to figure out the temperature scale on the light bulbs, until now.

Now if only I could figure out what the deal is with the Japanese sculpture near the Steel bridge (the one that makes those tambourine sounds). I'm not sure how that's activated. Timer? motion? I think it has been broken for some time, however.

Max said...

Ah yes we've been here before.