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It's Spring! It's Allergy Season!

March 21, 2012

Credit: NIH
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March 20 (sniffle) was the first official day of spring. It was the day of the spring equinox. (Sniffle!) It is the day that when the sun crosses the celestial equator and night and day are equal in length. It is also the beginning of spring allergy season (Achoo!).

This year had the earliest vernal equinox in more than a century. The spring equinox often falls on March 21. This year, we had a leap year and it fell on March 20. In the Mountain and Pacific Time zones and points west, spring came as early as March 19.

The spring equinox arrived early this year . . . SOURCE − NOAA

The allergy season came equally early this year. Thanks to the historic and nearly unprecedented warm weather (temperatures averaged 10 − 30˚F above normal, east of the Rockies) plants have been blooming early, filling the skies with pollen, lots and lots of pollen.

. . . So did spring allergy season. Credit: National Institute of Health

Here’s why:

  • Warm winter − Winter allergies are usually mold allergies. When the winter is warm, there is usually a record amount of mold. Winter has just ended, and the mold is still around.
  • Warm spring − The warm temperatures east of the Rockies encouraged plants to bloom early. Trees release their pollens as soon as it starts to warm. This year they started a month early and allergists started seeing a rush of patients by February. Official recordings of pollen levels do not start until the beginning of April, but current pollen counts are already in the moderate range! 
  • Dry weather – Rain usually washes pollen out of the skies. Unfortunately, according to the US Drought Monitor, more than 58% of the continental US is dry or in drought.

As a result of this triple threat, this year is already seeing some extraordinary pollen counts. Atlanta, for example, is setting a record, with “9,369 particles per cubic meter of air” when 1,500 particles are officially considered “extremely high.” Other hot spots for spring allergies are Oklahoma and Tennessee.

We are already seeing extremely high pollen counts. Credit: NOAA

In short, most doctors are warning allergy sufferers to expect their allergies to arrive early this year. You can avoid the worst if you prepare early.

Grab the tissues; it is shaping up to be a record allergy season. Do you have your medicines? If so, then take a deep breath and go outside. Spring has arrived and the flowers are beautiful.


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Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.

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