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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 04/ 8/2010

The pollen, my friend, is blowin' in the wind

By Ann Posegate

D.C. pollen count highest for early April in 12 years

* Season's 1st severe t'storm threat: Full Forecast | NatCast *
* Heat poll | Pollen, UV & air quality: Health Page *

Pollen from a variety of common plants. Image credit: Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility, Dartmouth College.

The single biggest complaint I've heard about this week's weather is neither the above-normal heat, nor the crowds of tourists ... It's allergies. The sudden burst of warmth and sun combined with the lack of rainfall over the past several days have sent trees that were snow-bound just weeks ago into a reproduction frenzy. Tree pollen has been the main culprit. (Grass, weed and mold pollen counts have been low; their peak pollen seasons are summer and fall.)

As of Tuesday, the local pollen count was off the charts at more than 4,000 grains per cubic meter. "Looking over the last 12 years of data we have not had recorded daily counts this high for the first week in April," according to the daily pollen report provided yesterday by the Department of Allergy and Immunology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Oak trees were by far the greatest contributor (more than 3,300 grains per cubic meter), with sycamore (263.58), birch (81.47) and other trees trailing behind. While the trees benefit from the onslaught of pollen, the respiratory tracts of allergy sufferers most certainly do not.

What are these tiny particles of pollen? And why are they blowing in the wind? It has to do with the birds and the bees -- literally.

Keep reading to learn more about pollen and why it causes allergies...

Pollination is the process by which flowering plants reproduce. It results in seeds and fruits that begin new generations of these species. Pollen grains from the male part of a plant are transferred via wind or pollinators (e.g., birds, bees, butterflies) to the female part of the new flower, or in some cases, the same flower. Once the pollen sticks, the now-fertilized plant produces one or more seeds encased in a "fruit." Without pollination, there would be no apples, grapes, oranges, plums, acorns, walnuts, rice, wheat or tomatoes (botanically, these are all considered fruits).

Like other trees, oak trees produce flowers, though they are small hanging flowers that do not look like the attractive landscape flowers we are used to seeing. Most trees rely on wind to carry their pollen. Since they do not need to attract pollinators, their flowers are not colorful or fragrant.

When pollen enters the respiratory tract of a person who is allergic to it, it is seen as an invader by his or her immune system. Thus the itchy eyes, scratchy throat and sneezes. In urban areas, the "invader" effect is enhanced when pollen interacts with air pollutants. As we speak, millions of tiny "invaders" are floating around us in the hot spring air. Comforting, no?

Just be thankful that we don't live in Knoxville, Tenn., which has been awarded the number one spot on this year's list of Spring Allergy Capitals compiled by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (D.C. is ranked 43 out of 100), and that the chance of rain later today could mean temporary relief for allergy sufferers.

More resources:
Capital Weather Gang: D.C. area pollen, UV and air quality forecasts
Tree pollen kicks off Washington's allergy season
Web MD: Spring allergies
Allergy tips

By Ann Posegate  | April 8, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Health, Posegate, Wx and the City  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: Season's first severe t'storm threat
Next: PM Update: Showers and storms into night


Funny, but I never seemed to notice it when I was in graduate school at UT-Knoxville--I sure notice it now. Last night was a bad night...the pollen count was over 4,000.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | April 8, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

We need a way to tag comments, like the first one, as spam.

Posted by: wiredog | April 8, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

My windshield was actually light green the past couple of mornings from the pollen...ewwwwww.

Posted by: | April 8, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I never really had allergies till I moved here. For the most part I can still get along fine but the past few days have been rough.

Posted by: Ian-CapitalWeatherGang | April 8, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I do not need the actual pollen count: the neumber of sneezes per hour tells it all for me!

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | April 8, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to weekly allergy shots, decongestants and antihistamines, I'm barely managing this spring.

What's really getting me through this week is the bar chart of the DC area's 15 snowiest winters posted by Ian earlier this week. Two of those winters were in 1890-91 and 1891-92, meaning we can have two consecutive very snowy winters hereabouts.

So, snow diehards, take heart. In a mere nine months, we'll hopefully be talking about flakes, not pollen grains.

As for Knoxville, all I can say is, "don't go there!" (at least if you have pollen allergies). And I have friends in Florida who go nuts in February because of palm tree-related allergies.

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | April 8, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Yesterday was hell.

Posted by: hcnd06a | April 8, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm in Chicago today and it's currently 39 degrees and windy. It's back to winter, at least in this part of the country. I forgot to pack a coat, brrrr...

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | April 8, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

The oak "flowers" you mention are called catkins. They look like little hanging kitten tails. When they fall to the ground in the city they tend to clump together in the street gutters like giant mounds of dirty laundry.

Posted by: Alsatian1 | April 8, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Our car looks yellow from all the pollen.

My joints are achy. Is this common with lower pressure? (I know that is not really a weather question, but I thought I would try.)

Posted by: celestun100 | April 8, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Great article on the pollen, by the way. You guys are a true fountain of information. Thanks!

Posted by: celestun100 | April 8, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

My lilacs are blooming!!!

Posted by: celestun100 | April 8, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Hey...for those who love the weather this past week (temps.) you've brought this "rath" of nature upon yourselves...this is what happens when temps are 20 of more degrees above normal and there is no is the norm...DC went straight from Winter to Summer...DC sucks except from November through March.....

Posted by: Metropolized | April 8, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I love the warm weather and just can't get enough of it. I feel sorry for the people who have to battle their allergies. I hated shoveling the snow and I moved to DC for light winters and love of the hot muggy summers. I'm really enjoying my reward for sticking it out throught the blizzards and not complaning when the power went out. Bring on the summer! And no I have not cut the heat off in my house yet.

Posted by: MMCCONNELL83 | April 8, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Tree pollen counts have been in the "very high" range yesterday and today, which means "Almost all allergy sufferers will experience symptoms, those extremely sensitive could have severe symptoms" according to the Department of Allergy and Immunology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Yikes!

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | April 8, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

For those of you who suffer from spring allergies, what are some tips for dealing with them?

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | April 8, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

What kept that Bermuda High hanging on for so long? Was it a blocking pattern, or just the strength of the high itself? While it is not unheard of (1976, for example), it is highly unusual for that strong and persistant a Bermuda high this early in the season.

Posted by: MMCarhelp | April 8, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I miss the snow.


Posted by: DagnyT | April 8, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

those pollen grains in that dartmouth pic as beautiful as snow flakes!

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | April 8, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

They are pretty, but not so nice if you are allergic to them, I guess.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 8, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

How do I deal with allergies?

Drugs. Lots of drugs.

It works, but then I get all weirded out, jittery, and can't sleep. But my allergies don't bother me!

Seriously, though, for the reasons listed above, I try to avoid my allergy medication except in conditions like these. As for a more holistic approach, using a neti pot helps somewhat.
I also heard eating raw honey (local raw honey, as it contains the pollen, etc. from the area you are existing in) can help. Sort of the same concept of allergy shots. Supposedly it introduces the allergens slowly into your system allowing you to build up some sort of resistance. No idea if this is scientifically proven, though....

Posted by: Snowlover2 | April 8, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse


It looks to me like the Bermuda high was held in place thanks to an Omega Block -- with a big ridge over Bermuda and upper lows upstream and downstream of it.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | April 8, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

I've suffered seasonal allergies all my life, but my worse time of year is usually May-June. Amazingly for me, I've just had minor symptoms so far.

Find a good prescription medication-Allegra works for me combined with a nasal spray (Nasonex) and in some cases also eye drops.

Drink plenty of water. Cut down on coffee. Use a Neti pot to wash out sinuses and wash/rinse your hair and face before going to bed (pollen is very sticky and loves to cling to hair). I feel these things are key to helping control allergy symptoms!

Posted by: Gary12 | April 12, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

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