National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Lara Pagano
Lara Pagano

Location: Silver Spring, MD
Office of Organizational Excellence
Job Title: NWS Organizational Health and Culture Lead



 Lara Pagano

Educational Background:

  • Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Meteorology from North Carolina State University

Describe the career path that led you to your current job with the National Weather Service.

  • Before graduating from NC State University, I worked as a teacher and research assistant, an intern at the NC State Climate Office, a broadcast meteorologist at the University of Chapel Hill local TV station, and the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) at the National Weather Service office in Raleigh, NC. These experiences prior to graduation helped guide my career path.

    After receiving my Master’s Degree in Meteorology, I transitioned from SCEP to a permanent role with NWS in Newport, NC. Through my years as an early career meteorologist along the coast, I gained a wealth of knowledge with tropical systems, heavy precipitation events and severe weather. It was during these years when I became very passionate about the importance of Decision Support Services (DSS) through effective communication.

    After working in Newport, I moved to the NWS office in Atlanta where I focused on DSS and hydrology. In Atlanta, I was deployed to the NWS Southern Region Headquarters in Fort Worth, TX during two high impact storms, Hurricane Harvey and Irma. These experiences motivated me to expand my DSS expertise apply to work in one of the NWS national centers.

    Throughout my career, I have worked at many different forecast offices and have moved through the various levels of the organizational structure. It was during these years where I truly saw how important organizational health and culture was in meeting the NWS mission, producing the highest quality products and services, as well as ensuring the best employee experience. Therefore, I felt my passion for serving the employees of the NWS took a front seat over the past few years. As of January 2022, I am the Organizational Health and Culture Lead for the NWS.

What do you do for the NWS?

  • I am the NWS Organizational Health and Culture Lead at the NWS Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.
    • Analyze and communicate Organizational Health surveys: (1) NWS Organizational Health Index (OHI) and (2) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results for NWS
    • Conduct webinars and in-person coaching working sessions to share best practices, provide survey results, and discuss areas for improvement with mid-level managers (e.g. MICs, HICs, Regional HQ staff, HQ staff)
    • Organize and run a grassroots organizational health and culture team with members from across NWS HQ and Field offices to identify best practices, make recommendations, and pilot initiatives in local offices

What was the most interesting, exciting, or impactful weather/water event you experienced while working for the NWS and why does it stand out?

  • My most memorable weather event since working for NWS was Hurricane Harvey. I was working at the NWS Southern Region Headquarters at the Regional Operations Center during this stressful event and was able to experience first hand how our forecasts and support to emergency managers saved lives.

    Even before coming to NWS, I was shaped by a weather event. My first memory as a child was not based on what I could see, but what I could hear. This was because I was born legally blind. It was 1991 and Hurricane Bob was off the coast of Long Island. I distinctly remember the wind howling outside the walls of our home. I also remember hearing the sheets of heavy rain hitting the roof. I could hear the fear in my dad's voice, but what I remember most was the anxiety I felt not knowing what was happening because I could not see it. Hurricane Bob is the reason I pursued a career in meteorology. From this experience, I was driven to help with effective messaging of these high impact events.

What made you decide to pursue a career with the NWS?

  • NC State University has a partnership with the local NWS office in Raleigh. Through this collaboration students from the University can spend time working with the NWS personnel. I enjoyed this experience and thus applied for the SCEP position at the local NWS office. Luckily, I was chosen which opened the door for my career within the NWS.

What do you like most about working for the NWS?

  • The mission! Creating a forecast and messaging that forecast in a way that saves lives and property is what I love most about my job.

What advice do you have for someone interested in a career with the NWS?

  • I would recommend that any interested candidates be persistent and have diversity in skills. The NWS is one of the most prestigious agencies for meteorologists and requires well rounded individuals who are willing to remain persistent in their attempts to become a part of the organization.

What training or coursework would you recommend to someone interested in following your career path?

  • Taking additional courses in GIS, computer science, Emergency Management, Psychology and even Business would certainly add a level of knowledge that would be of interest to any management within the Agency and certainly adds an edge.

    My approach to getting into the NWS was to gain as much experience in various components of the field of meteorology to become a well rounded candidate. Gaining experience as a teacher, researcher, forecaster and broadcast meteorologist certainly helped expand my skill set. Given my interest in DSS, I have worked closely with NWS partners (media, emergency management, local officials, education, etc.) throughout my career in an effort to understand their needs/concerns while also providing information about our products and services. This was accomplished through outreach events, meetings, training sessions and conferences. There are a lot of great opportunities to become involved with DSS and many other facets of meteorology while working within the NWS.