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New Twist On Downtown Weather Ball Coming To Nicollet Mall

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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Photo Gallery: Crews Install WCCO Weather Watcher

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — St. Louis has an arch while San Francisco has its iconic Golden Gate. But for generations of Minnesotans, it was a colored ball perched atop a downtown Minneapolis bank that many remember.

“Red is fire, temperatures going higher,” recalled one downtown shopper.

Another man remembered that “green was good weather.”

For others, memories are a little vague. “Just that it was lit up. I think it was NW for Northwest,” one downtown visitor said.

To jog our memories is an exhibit at the Minnesota History Center. There, in a section on Minnesota weather, is a towering replica that captures the 33-year history of the Northwestern National Bank weather ball.

“Almost all Minnesotans of a certain age remember the weather ball,” said Bill Dinon, the museum director.

Dinon recalls it being visible for miles around the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

“Fifteen miles on a clear evening and from the air, about 95 miles,” Dinon said.

Erected in 1949 the ball towered high above the Minneapolis skyline, which was modest back then. That’s when the famous Foshay tower was the tallest building west of the Mississippi river.

Sitting above the 13-story Northwestern bank building, the ball could be seen by many, changing with the weather. Once the weather service at the airport had the forecast the ball’s colored neon lights inside the glass sphere were changed. Red, green, white or blinking.

“If it blinks with agitation, soon to be precipitation, I do remember,” a shopper recited.

She was close, but here is the correct jingle used to correspond with the colors and weather:

“When the weather ball is glowing red, warmer weather is just ahead.

When the weather ball is shining white, colder weather is in sight.

When the weather ball is wearing green, no weather changes are foreseen.

Colors blinking by night and day say, precipitation’s on the way”

In fact, the weather ball became so popular that thousands of kids had coin banks, complete with the weather code inscribed on the back. Unfortunately, not many of the plastic banks survived since the only way to get your loot out was to break the bank.

Perhaps that was symbolic of the ball’s end.

That came Thanksgiving Day 1982 when the bank was devoured by a massive fire along with Donaldson’s department store. The ball was salvaged but never glowed again.

“The State Fair had plans to restore the weather ball, to put it on the fairgrounds, but it languished in storage for 17 years,” Dinon said. “Then it met its fate at the scrap yards, so it is no more.”

The cost to fix the giant neon ball was just too expensive.

“I miss it, I would like to have it back again. Is there a possibility?” one downtown shopper asked.

Yes. That’s the plan.

WCCO-TV will bring back a modern version of the ball, calling it the “Weather Watcher.”

Lighted logos and lettering atop a steel tower on the station’s rooftop will once again change colors with the forecasted weather.

It will again give downtown visitors a hint of what’s ahead, along with fond memories of what we left behind.

“I know that green was no change foreseen,” said resident Brian Turner.

In addition to the Weather Watcher, WCCO-TV will unveil a new rooftop set. Click here for more on those plans.

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