Where We Live: The Portland weather beacon

The weather beacon. And yes, it is flashing, Dec. 2015 (KOIN)
The weather beacon. And yes, it is flashing, Dec. 2015 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With smartphones and weather apps so easily available, we can get the weather forecast in an instant.

The weather beacon is decorated for the hoildays, Dec. 2015 (KOIN)
The weather beacon is decorated for the hoildays, Dec. 2015 (KOIN)

But it didn’t used to be that way. Many cities used weather beacons and Portland is one of the few cities still using the technology.

“We started to see the advent of these weather beacons in the 1950s and 1960s, and there were dozens of them at one time scattered around cities in the United States,” says Bob Speltz with The Standard, which is where Portland’s weather beacon sits now, 17 stories up.

The 4-foot weather beacon sits on a 50-foot pole on top of the building, giving a basic forecast to the entire city.

If the beacon is red, it means a 5-degree warm up is expected in the next 24 hours. Green means the temperature isn’t expected to change and white means the temperature will fall by 5-degrees.

If the beacon is flashing, precipitation is expected.

“This time of year, you can almost bet that the beacon will be green, and it’s going to be flashing,” says Speltz.

Bob Speltz with The Standard, Dec. 2015 (KOIN)The forecast is updated twice a day with data from the National Weather Service.

The Standard’s weather beacon was built in 1950 on top of another Standard property as a public service. It moved to its current location in 1963.

“Standard Plaza was one of the largest buildings in downtown, so this beacon could be seen from miles and miles away,” Speltz tells KOIN 6 News.

The beacon has been updated several times, most recently with LED lighting to keep costs low. Speltz says even though the beacon is obsolete, people still look to it for guidance. It even has its own Twitter account.

Speltz says they’ll keep this weather beacon working — forever.

“The weather beacon is iconic, it’s a special part of Portland and it’s a special part of our company’s history.”

Only a few other cities still have weather beacons, including Toronto, Boston and San Francisco.

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