You Have the “Polar Vortex” to Thank for the “Pollen Vortex”

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 11 2014 4:18 PM

You Have the “Polar Vortex” to Thank for the “Pollen Vortex”

Allergy season is so romantic.

Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Just when you thought winter’s soul-crushing impact was finally over, it’s back. And this time, it’s here to mess with your sinuses.

Here comes the “pollen vortex.”


Sure, allergy season happens every year, and April is generally the worst of it. But there’s evidence that this year, it’s happening all at once. Which could lead to an exceptionally bad year for allergy sufferers.

It seems that perfect storm could reach its peak this weekend.

Spring’s late start has led leading to a reproductive frenzy of the arboreal variety with a dreadful consequence: Tree pollen counts are through the roof.

The rise in pollen counts is being exacerbated by the very thing folks in the Northeast have been craving for months now: warmth. New York City hit 70 degrees for the first time in 2014 on Friday. Temperatures will be in the 70s in the Washington, D.C., area until Monday, when a round of rain showers should finally clear out the air.

According to a forecast, this weekend is going to be miserable for allergy sufferers throughout the Northeast with readings nearly maxing out on Sunday.

A Google Trends analysis of searches for “allergies” show that so far, thanks to the late start, April 2014 is the least potent allergy season in at least the last decade.

This comes in stark contrast to the last several years. A general warming trend consistent with climate change has been causing growing seasons to lengthen. As the world warms due to human-caused climate change, scientists expect trees and other plants to flower earlier each year.

According to the EPA, that’s going to continue to make future allergy seasons much worse:

Climate change will allow certain allergen-producing plant species to move into new areas, and wind blown dust, carrying pollens and molds from outside of the United States, could expose people to allergens they had not previously contacted.  Exposure to more potent concentrations of pollen and mold may make current non-sufferers more likely to develop allergic symptoms.

The future lengthening of the allergy season will be a nationwide effect, possibly most pronounced in the Southeast as winters become increasingly mild. Across the Midwest region, the fall ragweed season has extended by more than three weeks in some locations since 1995.

My advice: Keep those tissues at the ready.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate’s Future Tense. Follow him on Twitter.


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