Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lousy Smarch Weather

Last week I happily put my winter coats in the back of the closet, and then this week I begrudgingly pulled them back out again. It seems that March this year has come in like and lion, and it looks like its going to go out like a…well..a lion. Is this going to make the allergy season shorter? Can we all stop stocking up on Kleenex?

Studies looking at the relationship between weather patterns and pollen levels are notoriously difficult to perform.  Pollen collecting devices are obviously static and cannot move around.  Therefore, any variations in wind patterns precipitation, or even land use for farming and commercial development can have effects on local pollen counts, without really explaining what’s going on in the wider region.

One of the best studies was performed in the mid-eighties in California. The study looked at oak pollen (a really common allergen in NYC, and the most populous trees in Central Park) over a 9 year period of time, looking at various meteorological variables. The level of total pollen counts and, therefore allergy symptoms, was best explained not by the length of the winter months, but by the total rainfall the previous year.  Last year, NYC came just under the average for rainfall, so maybe we will be spared this season?

Another multi-year study in Colorado looked at temperatures and weed pollen (like ragweed). They found that higher temperatures led to more days of high pollen counts, and that early frost effectively ended the allergy season. Will these prolonged low temperatures lead to lower pollen counts this spring? Maybe this year Mother Nature is trying to give all of us a break by keeping it colder just a little bit longer.

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