Say it’s not so: Des Moines’ Weather Beacon is no more


Des Moines

Driving through downtown Des Moines last night we were struck by the absence of the famous Weather Beacon – a 500-foot television station transmitter tower lined with lights that perked up the sky above the city, letting us know the weather forecast by its color and flashing/or lack of flashing. (Red meant warmer weather ahead; white – colder weather in sight; flashing meant precipitation.) My stepdaughter E. in particular was fascinated by it as a kid when she used to visit us from Oklahoma. “Does every city have a weather beacon?” she once asked. No – and now Des Moines no longer does either, alas. (Some other cities do have a weather beacon,  according to Wikipedia including Dubuque, Sacramento,Sydney, Copenhagen, Toronto, Istanbul and New Orleans, where I’ll be next weekend. Who knew? See photos below!)

Word has it some genius is designing a computer app to replace the weather beacon but that’s hardly the same. More details from the DM Register:

Iowa lost two treasures in less than two days. First, Wall Lake native and famed singer Andy Williams died late Tuesday. Wednesday, word came from KCCI-TV the station was switching off its beloved Weather Beacon for good.

The beacon was to flicker off a final time at dawn Thursday. Station owners decided costs and upkeep of the colorful icon outweighed the benefits of keeping the beacon lit — much to the anguish of central Iowans who grew up with the forecast lights.

“We are losing a true landmark,” said Bernard Harmeyer of Altoona. “I always looked to the tower to see what was going on with the weather. It made (KCCI) stand out from the other stations.”

First lit in 1960, strings of colored lights at the edges of the downtown transmitter tower for Des Moines’ CBS-TV affiliate gave an at-a-glance forecast on the capital’s skyline.

But the traffic light bulbs used to create the colorful forecast are no longer manufactured. Station officials ordered custom-made bulbs, but the color flaked off the red and green bulbs, which regularly forced engineers to scale the 500-foot tower to replace bulbs.

The tower, KCCI reported Wednesday, was built to meet 1980s code, and any remodeling would have forced expensive repairs.

The Weather Beacon went dark in 1973 because of high energy costs. When KCCI moved to its current location at 888 Ninth St., the tower was rebuilt and the beacon returned in 1987.

Former Des Moines Register Iowa Boy columnist Chuck Offenburger rallied the station to return the beacon in many columns through the 1970s and ’80s. Now retired and living on a Greene County farm, he was ready to sound reveille in the 21st century.

“Occupy KCCI!” he said Wednesday. “Look what other fine restorations there are around Des Moines — the World Food Prize headquarters, the Temple for Performing Arts, Terry Branstad.

“Surely the Weather Beacon can be made over and given extended new life, too, can’t it?”

Sydney

Brisbane

Melbourne

Kitchener

Toronto

Copenhagen

Aachen

Osaka

Istanbul

Fresno

Sacramento

San Francisco

Des Moines

Dubuque

New Orleans

Boston

Flint

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