SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — KELOLAND viewers once learned the weather forecast through Weatherballs perched on top of banks and buildings around South Dakota.
“I remember as a kid driving down Minnesota Avenue looking at the Weatherball,” said Sioux Falls resident Julie Mickelberg said.
The Weatherball has a long TV history, said KELOLAND meteorologist Jay Trobec.
A March 15, 1960, letter from KELO-TV, KDLO-TV and KELO Radio to KPLO-TV in Reliance, said “Midcontinent Broadcasting’s experience with Weatherballs dates back to 1953.”
“A lot of cities in the upper Midwest had them,” Trobec said. “In a lot of places it was the TV station that controlled it.”
A Weatherball was on top of the former First National Bank building in downtown Sioux Falls. There was one on the Sherman Hotel in Aberdeen.
“Downtown was where we would shop,” Mickelberg said. Any venture downtown included a look at the Weatherball, she said.
The ball would change color with the forecast. The Weatherball showed the colors of red, white and green. They also blinked in color. When the color changed, a short poem described the forecast.
“Everybody had that little jingle that they heard, that helped everybody to memorize exactly what was going on,” Trobec said.
“Weatherball, red as fire- Temperature is going higher.”
The change to white: “Weatherball, white as snow-Down the temperature will go.”
The change to green: “Weatherball, emerald green- Forecast says, no change foreseen.”
“When the colors blink in agitation, There’s going to be- precipitation!”
Trobec started at KELOLAND in news in 1985.
“I remember when I got here we had the Weatherball at the top of the bank building, but it wasn’t working…,” Trobec said.
Paul Farmer, director of marketing and creative services at KELOLAND said the Weatherball was a successful promotion for TV and radio. Back when it started with KELOLAND, the owner of the TV station also owned KELO Radio.
“I think the last incarnation with sponsors was the Weatherball on top of the First National Bank of South Dakota building (in Sioux Falls),” Farmer said.
Trobec finds it unusual the Weatherballs did not forecast wind, since the wind blows often in South Dakota.
“There was no color on the Weatherball for lots of wind,” Trobec said.
The media did pay attention to wind, according to the March 15, 1960, letter.
The letter said the Weatherballs are constructed in excess of minimum safety standards “with particular attention to strength of wind in this area.”
KELO TV (and its other stations) had Weatherballs in several locations including Sioux Falls, Aberdeen and Huron.
The Weatherball promised a forecast that was six hours in advance.
Farmer said from what he’s been told the Weatherball was activated through a remote transmitter.
The Weatherball’s depth and breadth of science is scant compared to today’s tools.
“We’ve invested millions of dollars in doppler radar weather,” Farmer said.
Weather watchers have access to weather applications and can check the weather on cell phones and other mobile devices instead of watching the Weatherball on top of a building.
But while Mickelberg said its important into today’s weather climate to have the technology to access weather, she also believes there is a downside.
“It makes us numb to looking up the sky,” Mickelberg said. She’d encourage people to also look at the sky, “that’s where weather happens.”
The Weatherball hasn’t been forgotten.
“It’s been brought up several times to bring them back,” Farmer said.
“..it reminds us of good times,” Trobec said of the Weatherball. He even recalls memorizing the Weatherball forecast jingles as a kid in Minnesota.
“It’s fun to look back on it. There are a lot of good memories (attached to it),” Farmer said.
Mickelberg said the Weatherball is a beautiful part of Sioux Falls’ past. She’d favor bringing it back in some form. “It’s more about the history than the information,” she said.
Mickelberg said the return of the Weatherball would be a way to share a piece of the city’s history with residents who didn’t grow up with it.
Farmer said he’d be reluctant to bring back the Weatherball in these days of more advanced technology.
Trobec isn’t quite as reluctant as he entertained the possibility. “Why not…?,” Trobec said.