Portland’s whimsical Weather Machine

a red brick public square occupied by several people with a pillar standing in one corner

The Weather Machine (on the right) in Pioneer Courthouse Square. | Photo by City of Portland

You’re walking through Pioneer Courthouse Square when the clock strikes noon + trumpets suddenly start blaring, ripping your focus away from TikTok. You look up to see what the hubbub is about — is a royal procession about to make a grand entrance? Then you see it: a tall pillar topped by an orb and spinning wind scoops standing in the northwest corner of the square.

Congratulations, you’ve just discovered the Portland Weather Machine.

An impressive feat of craftsmanship + whimsical innovation, the Weather Machine has been delighting and mystifying people for decades. But why?

Shortly after Pioneer Courthouse Square opened in 1984, the City of Portland held a design competition for “a unique yet practical work of art” that could be easily viewed + told passersby what to expect from the weather, while also adding beauty and a characteristic touch of wackiness to downtown.

Dick Ponzi, Roger Sheppard, and husband-wife team Ray and Jere Grimm won the contest and went to work building a machine inspired by Germany’s cuckoo clocks, complete with unfolding mechanical symbols, water features, lights, and, of course, sounds.

At 12 p.m. each day, “Fanfare for the Common Man” rings out to get the attention of everyone nearby. Mist billows out of the orb as one of three symbols rises to herald the day’s weather, and flashing lights along the side of the pillar forecast the temperature.

Here’s what each feature means:

🐉 Copper dragon = nasty weather

🌞 Gold-plated sun “Helia” = clear skies

🐦 Aluminum blue heron = drizzly, overcast

🔴 Red bulbs = represent increments of 10 degrees

⚪ White bulbs = represent increments of two degrees

Luke Grimm is now Portland’s “Weather Wizard” and maintains the machine created, in part, by his late father. Luke and Pioneer Courthouse Square staff take turns manually selecting the creature each day and, one could argue, keeping Portland weird.