Josh Shaffer

Shaffer: Ace weather forecasts from a Holly Springs chihuahua

As the first flakes fell, Strongbad the Weather Chihuahua rose from his canine slumber to pull on a reflective orange jacket and a pair of turquoise socks, fresh for the early-morning broadcast.

With one ear jutting out from his hood, he warned a wary Triangle about subfreezing air, roads slick as ski slopes and schools closed from New Hill to New Bern – a climatic roundup he delivered while perched on the living room sofa.

And with his daily report concluded, Strongbad closed his report with his signature catchphrase:

“Stay hydrated, my friends.”

Nearing age 13, this 8-pound Pomeranian mix has something every TV meteorologist secretly covets: thick, golden hair and a following that stretches to Pakistan.

Since Labor Day in 2014, when Strongbad’s forecast first appeared on Facebook, he has carried nervous weather-watchers through the snows and ice deluge of last February, the flop sweats of last July and the balmy Christmas holiday. His on-air voice, deeper than Barry White at his most sultry, has gained him 224 “likes” stretching, somehow, into Ireland.

“He wears a bow tie,” said his owner and wardrobe consultant, Claudia Mello, 58. “He bows to women. He blows kisses. He fist-bumps.”

When I visited, Mello, an avid runner who works at N.C. State University, confessed that Strongbad cannot actually speak or warn viewers of late-afternoon shower. Rather, she discovered an app that creates a moving mouth on the pictures she takes, turning Strongbad from extravagantly dressed dog into a sharp commentator. One of the app’s feature allows her to adjust the sound of her voice, which she dials down to its lowest level, giving Strongbad a rich baritone.

“He’s met Elizabeth Gardner,” she said, name-checking the morning and noontime face of WRAL weather.

I plowed through Friday’s ice to meet this snow celebrity in Holly Springs, and as I did I considered that Sir Walter Wally, Raleigh’s shadow-gazing hero of Feb. 2, isn’t even the same groundhog from year to year, which seems like cheating.

Like any Chihuahua, Strongbad objected to my home invasion with 5 minutes of menacing barks, but once he calmed down and sensed a fellow truth-teller, he demonstrated how he’s able to coax treats out of Mello by ringing a bell with his paw.

By far the most impressive moment of my visit, though, came when Mello hauled out Strongbad’s meteorologist accessories in a large blue tub. Out came an Elvis wig, a Walking Dead costume, an elf suit, a kilt complete with buckle ...

“Let me get his bow tie,” said Mello.

“Very Al Roker,” noted Tom Ferguson, her husband and co-parent.

But the purest way to experience Strongbad, as with any journalist, is through his work. Note especially the pre-Christmas broadcast: “Do you remember if we had thunder 10 days ago? I think we did. I had my new jacket on that Grams bought me so I reflected in the moonlight.”

This round of winter nastiness should disappear by Monday. But stay tuned to Strongbad’s keen eye. And stay hydrated, my friends.

Josh Shaffer: 919-829-4818, jshaffer@newsobserver.com, @joshshaffer08

Where can you watch Strongbad?

Strongbad’s forecasts appear on Twitter and Instagram, but the best place to view them is on Facebook under the name DaMan Strongbad-Dawg

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