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.”
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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.
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