On The Road's 'April Blooms' theme saw Joe go to with Dr. Kathy Sedia at Stockton Univeristy, talking about the upcoming pollen season.
“The itchy eyes and sneezing. My dark gray truck is completely green. I live in a wooded area, and you can see the pollen falling off the trees,” Jake Jesky, 29, of Hopewell Township said.
While the weather prevented South Jersey from getting its usual start to the pollen season, that doesn’t mean it’s lost its runny-nose luster.
“It started late, but strong. Anecdotally, everyone has been sneezing. Even my dog!” said Ekaterina Sedia, associate professor of biology at Stockton University.
Pollen is part of the annual ritual of breaking into the warm days the change in seasons bring. When pollen gets its start depends on how the weather cooperates.
“It varies quite a bit from year to year, but, generally, it starts with the first warm week in March and goes well into May,” Sedia said.
Temperatures during March were 1.2 degrees below average at Atlantic City International Airport. The first nine days of the month did not register a day above average, with a stretch of lows in the teens from March 5-9. This helped keep pollen from being produced and spread around.
A double dose of some snow, first on March 1 and another on March 9, made outdoor allergy season seem far away.
“This year, and in 2018, the season started pretty late (mid-March),” Sedia said.
Compared to other places in New Jersey, Sedia said, the amount of pollen in South Jersey is “probably higher” on a year-to-year basis. This is a result of the forested Pinelands that dominate much of the region’s landscape, as well as having a large number of rural areas, which typically have more blooming trees and grass — the culprits for your required daily dose of allergy medication.
Another reason for the probable higher volume of pollen in the region is due to the type of trees.
The pitch pine trees that dominate the landscape are not the most efficient pollinators. Pollen is produced in male cones, which are smaller and yellower than the female, large brown cones many know.
The wind is the only way get from the males to the females in different parts of the trees. Compare this to bright flowers that attract bees and insects. In this case, the bees and insect handle much of the pollination.
Want the allergy season to come and go without a burst of pollen coatings your car?
A hard-freeze in late March or early April would reduce pollen production, but at the expense of damage to many of the developing flowers. Not to mention, other early-season crops and vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage.
Those days are becoming fewer and further between, though.
Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Central in Princeton, said global climate change is increasing the number of days that fail to drop below 32, expanding the pollen season.
“We are seeing the growing season getting longer, which also correlates to allergy season. One year may start earlier and one year may start later, but when you add them all up, it gets longer and longer over time,” Sublette said.
Even without a warming planet, the increase in carbon dioxide would play a role. According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, annual mean global carbon dioxide concentrations have increased from 315.97 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii in 1959 to 409.92 ppm on Jan. 1, 2019.
“For higher carbon dioxide concentration, the plants and certain species of trees do produce more pollen. That’s more allergenic protein,” Sublette said.
According to Climate Central, Atlantic City has warmed about 3.1 degrees since 1970, compared to 3 degrees in New Jersey as a whole and 2.5 degrees in the United States.
Sedia echos those statements on a local level.
“Global climate changes seems to increase overall pollen counts, especially in New Jersey, where 11 of the 15 warmest years happened in the last two decades. As winters get milder, expect earlier and more plentiful pollen,” Sedia said.