Weather can be unpredictable, but so can motherhood. No one knows that better than meteorologist and mom of two Nikki-Dee Ray, who forecasts the weather on CBS 6 This Morning, Virginia This Morning, and CBS 6 News at Noon.
Being the person who clues viewers in to weather conditions is a job for a hardy soul who can handle not only the brunt of a rapidly changing weather pattern, but also viewers who are quick to voice opinions on social media.
“Weather is a science that’s always fluid. When people complain about the weather forecast, you have to handle it with a smile,” says Nikki-Dee. “People don’t understand the large area I am forecasting. They think it’s the area at their house. My area runs from Charlottesville to Farmville to Deltaville. Not everyone will have the same weather at the same time.”
Nikki-Dee appreciates the science, technology, and uncertain nature behind the weather. “I get bored easily, and weather is always changing,” she says. “There is always something to keep you on your feet. The barometer is different every day. The high pressure is different. There are new things coming in. I love the challenges every day can bring.”
Her favorite type of weather is wind, especially when it whips up to fifteen to twenty-five miles an hour. “There is something so refreshing about it,” she says. “You know things are about to change.”
Growing Up Weather-Curious
Nikki-Dee was obsessed with how the weather worked when she was growing up in Alabama. The city of Florence – where she lived until the seventh grade when her family moved to Huntsville – is in the Deep South on the banks of the Tennessee River and prone to severe weather. Intense storms frightened Nikki-Dee when she was a child. Her parents encouraged her to learn more about the weather, hoping the deeper dive into science would help her conquer her fear. “When I started learning, I couldn’t stop. I thought it was really interesting,” she says.
Growing up as an only child, Nikki-Dee was very quiet until she felt comfortable with someone. “Then I would talk a lot,” she says. “I was always obedient because I didn’t want to disappoint my family.”
Her faith and her church have always been paramount in her life. “My home church – Faith Church in Florence – was non-denominational,” she says. “My mom is still very involved with the church. My grandfather was a deacon.”
Her faith, she says, taught her that “you have to stay true to who you are. We all make mistakes, but we can always go back for forgiveness. That stuck with me.”
During spring break as a teen, she went on mission trips with her school, and in the summer, she would head out with her church family. “We would go to Mexico and teach kids and help build houses,” she says.
Nikki-Dee’s deep connection to her Alabama hometown is as strong as ever. Whenever she goes home, she visits two of her favorite hangouts in Florence – Trowbridge’s Ice Cream and Sandwich Bar and Newbern’s Restaurant, famous for its fried catfish. “When I got married, we went to take pictures at Trowbridge’s and we got milkshakes,” she says.
Broadcasting the Weather
Nikki-Dee attended Auburn University her freshman and sophomore years, and then had the chance to intern at WHNT-TV in Huntsville. That television internship in college was an opportunity for her to work hand-in-hand with the same core team she had met as a sixth grader when she was a kid-caster for a day at the same station.
“I got to see how they predict the weather and how a green screen works,” she says. “I was obsessed with the weather. I had stuffed animals named for forecasters. Lilla is a stuffed lamb that I still have. Lilla Marigza [who was on WHNT] was one of the first female weathercasters.”
Before her junior year, Nikki-Dee transferred to Mississippi State University to pursue her degree in atmospheric science with a minor in broadcast. She already had a job lined up when she graduated from MSU in 2010. “I was blessed,” she says of the morning meteorologist position she landed in Lubbock, Texas.
Nine months later, she was promoted to the station’s chief meteorologist position and earned the prime evening slot. “At twenty-two, I was the youngest female chief meteorologist in the nation,” she says.
In 2015, she joined CBS 6 in Richmond as a morning meteorologist. Soon after her debut, she launched the Nikki-Dee, Can You Be Me? segment, trying out people’s jobs for a day. She came up with the idea after hearing people complain about customer service. She wanted people to understand that all jobs can be stressful at times. “Everyone’s job has difficulties that you have to overcome,” she says. “When I started doing the segment, I became interested in seeing what people do. It was a crash course.”
She has tried out various fields, from trucking to food service. “It’s been eye-opening to see what people go through on a daily basis. I have met a lot of people and made friends,” she says, noting she had put the segments on hold while she was pregnant, but will start airing them again later this year.
Women in the Media
Women who work in television fight an uphill battle when it comes to gaining respect. Often, viewers judge on-camera media people like Nikki-Dee on their looks and not on their intelligence or their ability to do the job. “People look at me and see blonde hair and blue eyes and think I don’t know anything,” she says. “They will ask me ‘Who really does your weather forecast?’ That is something I have dealt with. In West Texas, I was hired for my [college] grades and my looks, but once I proved I was smart, they started to take me seriously. It’s gotten better the longer I have been in the business.”
Her bubbly personality and easy laugh are often wrongly viewed as weaknesses. “I know how to pivot and get serious,” she says. “As women, it seems we have to prove ourselves.”
Being Southern is also a stumbling block; many people erroneously equate a Southern drawl with lower intelligence. “People wanted me to go to a voice coach when they heard my accent, but I had to be true to me,” Nikki-Dee says. “People could relate to me better, and I could be comfortable in my own skin.”
She’s also been asked to shorten her name to Nikki. “I said no,” she says. “Nikki-Dee is my real name. I am very Southern, and I love my home.”
A woman’s body is a prime target for social media jabs that often border on bullying. “It doesn’t matter what you wear, someone is going to find something wrong with it,” Nikki-Dee says.
Appearing on television after childbirth was a little nerve-racking, she adds. “You want to look your best. I’ve come to an agreement with myself that my body has changed. As long as you are wearing something that fits properly, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about how it fits.”
Every time she faces scrutiny, Nikki-Dee recalls something her father used to say: When people are all in agreement, that is when you know something is not right. To reinforce his daughter’s confidence and sense of self, her dad would ask her if she wanted to have onion skin or elephant skin. She would respond: “Elephant skin – because I want to be tough.”
The main takeaway is related to body image: “You have to like you, and keep going,” she says. “I need to wear what I am comfortable in so I feel confident, and that is all that matters. People will say what they are going to say. You have to take it with a grain of salt and laugh at it. Someone may just be having a bad day or having trouble at work. At the end of the day, that is on them.”
Like most of her peers, Nikki-Dee is very active on social media, especially when she needs to get the word out about severe weather. Social media is a great way to connect with people “on a daily basis, but it also can be used for bullying and spreading false rumors,” she says. “I have had people saying things about me that were not true, and there is nothing you can do.”
She adds that it’s important for people to see real life, and not the curated life that can be portrayed on social media. “Sometimes, you need to see mom in a ponytail with mascara running down her face or the mess on the floor,” she says. “Transparency is important. David [her husband] and I try to be real one hundred percent of the time.”
A Growing Family
Nikki-Dee met her husband David Wren on the Fourth of July 2015. Nikki-Dee, who considers herself a homebody, was out with friends to celebrate the holiday. One of her friends mentioned a cute guy in a corner and pushed Nikki-Dee into David. “I tripped!” she says. “We had a conversation, I gave him my card, and he called and asked me out for brunch. I didn’t call back for a while. When I did, we went out to brunch and we’ve been together ever since. It was an instant connection. He’s my best friend.”
David, who was born and raised in the Short Pump area, had already noticed Nikki-Dee at the Fourth of July party, but he had no idea she was a media personality. “I didn’t watch local news at the time. I didn’t know who she was
or what she did. She liked the fact that I didn’t know that. We hit it off,” he says, adding, “She’s funny and smart. She loves people, and she’s good at communicating and connecting with them.”
By 2016, the two were engaged. They married the following year in Florence, Alabama. “We did our own vows. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day,” says Nikki-Dee.
The two are now proud parents of Thomas (T.) Copeland, born in January 2018, and daughter, Windley-Ray Jeanette, born in April this year.
When the couple learned Nikki-Dee was pregnant with T. Copeland, David started his own consulting business so he could be home with the baby during the day. “We didn’t want to have to depend on daycare,” he says. “I have always wanted to start my own business. God has truly blessed us with that. I’ve been able to build up a strong business to help support our family.”
David wanted to be a “hands-on dad,” he says. “Ever since I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be a dad.”
Nikki-Dee and David share parenting responsibilities. Nikki-Dee goes to bed around five in the evening in order to get up at one-thirty in the morning for work. David cares for the children while she’s at work. “She takes over when she gets home with feedings, etc.,” David says. “My whole day is weaving in and out of work and taking care of babies. It’s easy to organize your day when you know your priorities. We lean on each other to pick up slack here and there.”
David is very supportive of Nikki-Dee’s job. “We really get to have a team partnership with the children,” says Nikki-Dee. “We are able to be parents together, raise our family, and enjoy family time – Friday is our family day.”
When it was time to return to work at WTVR after the birth of T. Copeland, Nikki-Dee says it was challenging. After her daughter was born, the transition was more manageable because she knew what to expect.
“Hands down, it was one of the most difficult transitions I have ever gone through, but it was a little easier the second time than with T. Copeland,” says Nikki-Dee. “It really helped knowing that David was at home with the children, and I didn’t have to drop them off anywhere each day, and I could see them right when I got home. The hormones definitely did not make things easy though!”
She also credits her work environment for being family-friendly. “The leadership at WTVR is so supportive of me and the other women and mothers at the station,” she says. “It is amazing to work in such a family-oriented atmosphere.”
Nikki-Dee’s family wouldn’t be complete without her 13-year-old Maltese, Louis. He has been with her since her freshman year of college, served as the ring bearer in her wedding, and like Nikki-Dee, he has a wonderful career. “He is a therapy dog for emotional support. He works with the elderly and children with special needs,” she says. “It’s amazing how a dog opens up people. Louis is a very important member of the family.”
He wasn’t a perfect dog – he had an injured paw – when Nikki-Dee adopted Louis, but that’s what made him perfect for me,” she says. “In college, I was going through a lot of things, and he was a therapy dog for me. I wanted him to help other people so I got him certified.”
Connecting with the Community
David, who swam for the University of Virginia, competing in four ACC championships with his team, grew up volunteering with Special Olympics. Now, he and Nikki-Dee are passionate about the work they do with The Next Move Program, a nonprofit that offers intensive job training for young adults with developmental disabilities.
Elizabeth Redford, the organization’s executive director and co-founder, first met Nikki-Dee at the nonprofit’s fundraiser. “Both she and David have such a passion and heart for the young people we work with,” she says. “Nikki-Dee has been at our fundraisers over the years, and she arranges tours and special experiences for our students at the station.”
The students love meeting Nikki-Dee, she adds. “She’s delightful, warm, funny, and sincere. She stays in touch with our students. She’s a kind and thoughtful friend. We think she is awesome.”
From the high ratings CBS 6 News receives in Central Virginia and the number of viewers CBS 6 This Morning attracts, it’s easy to see that Richmond feels the same way.
Read more about The Next Move Program in Just Joan: RVA Storyteller.