Allergy sufferers, take note: Tree pollen season is here, and it could be a long one.
The first puffs of this year’s tree pollen season appeared Feb. 22, but by the end of last week, the amount of pollen in the air at New Jersey’s counting site in Springfield, Union County, soared to 2,400 grains per cubic meter. In Mount Laurel, the count was at least 1,000 pollen grains per cubic meter.
Any measure more than 90 pollen grains per cubic meter is considered “high,” according to the National Allergy Bureau Scale. More than 1,500 grains is considered “extreme.”
The pollen count is expected to increase by the end of this week, with temperatures expected to reach the 70s with strong breezes, low humidity and little chance for showers.
Dr. Melissa Hutchison, a family practice physician with AtlantiCare in Upper Township, said she is just now starting to see patients complaining about seasonal allergies, but she expects the traffic will pick up quickly.
“What’s happening is the tree pollen counts are higher than usual for this time of year,” Hutchison said. “This is normally a time of year when the mold counts are high, so you have the combination.”
The unusually mild winter also is a factor. The ground never fully froze and there was little snow cover. The lack of the seasonal freeze meant those with mold allergies had more symptoms than usual, Hutchison said.
Dr. Leonard Bielory, an allergy specialist with the Rutgers Center for Environmental Prediction and the director of the STARx Allergy and Asthma Center in Springfield, said he has noticed the past few pollen seasons have lasted longer and are more intense. “We’re starting earlier and starting higher in the past two years alone,” said Bielory, who has an Environmental Protection Agency grant to study the correlation of pollen seasons with climate change.
For example, Bielory said, the 2011 early tree pollen season began March 3 and the peak count of 1,800 was on March 18. In 2010, the season began March 6 and reached 800 on March 20.
Last Thursday, the pollen count began to soar, with the total count reaching 800. The next day, Bielory said, the count reached 2,400. The count has since dropped to 840 grains per cubic meter Monday.
Bielory said scientists are not sure whether trees are producing more pollen due to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or whether the pollen released is just hanging around in the air longer due to weather conditions. He is trying to answer that question through a series of experiments, he said.
Showers, which help reduce the pollen in the air, are likely overnight and into this morning, but the National Weather Service forecast calls for high temperatures to reach the upper 60s and low 70s. The forecast calls for temperatures Wednesday and Thursday to be warmer, with potentially gusty winds and low humidity, the weather service said.
State climatologist David Robinson, also a professor at Rutgers University, said the ongoing unseasonable warmth shows no sign of abating and he’s not surprised pollen counts already are so high. “I’m looking at budding trees right now that I sometimes don’t see until early April.”
While it’s only the middle of March, temperatures predicted for this week are normal for early May, Robinson said.
“We’re in the midst of yet another warm month, we’re in the midst of a dry month, our second consecutive, and it doesn’t look like there’s any major storms on the horizon,” Robinson said. “This is one of the more unusual forecasts I’ve seen. We’ve seen warm days in February and March, but to have an extended stay of such warm temperatures, it’s pretty unusual.”