Warm winter: Something to sneeze at

One morning last week we were sneezing so much that we thought we had wandered into mid-April. That's when the tree-pollen season typically gets cranking.

We were reassured to learn that we had company.

Dr. David Dvorin, an allergist and the official pollen counter for the National Allergy Bureau for 25 years, reports that he did a brisk business last month.

"We had our busiest February in a long time," said Dvorin, founder of the Asthma Center, which has an office in Center City and several others around the region.

Usually, he begins his daily pollen counts in mid-March, which we post daily online in the Inquirer.

But he says he's going to start next week, about 10 days earlier than usual, because the trees evidently are way ahead of schedule.

"If you look at the buds on the maple trees, they appear to almost be opening," he said.

Tony Aiello, horticulturalist at the Morris Arboretum, in Chesnut Hill, says he trees may be as much as two-and-half weeks ahead of schedule.  

At work, of course, was the extremely mild December through February period, the fourth-warmest in Philadelphia in 138 years of recordkeeping.

Dvorin measures pollen atop a building at Broad and Race Streets, using a trap that captures the microscopic grains. But the early-pollen phenomenon isn't just local.

On the other side of the state, a trap atop Allegheny General Hospital captured significant pollen grains last month -- a first for February in the 10 years of counting at that location. (Our thanks to colleague Stacey Burling for alerting us.) Early pollen sightings have been reported elsewhere in the country. 

Every year trees release their pollen in the spring to sow the seeds for the next generation, and allergy-sufferers get caught in the crossfire.

Typically around here, the pollen season doesn't start until March, picks up the pace in April, and ends in June.

In recent years, however, due to general warming, the season has been starting earlier and ending later, according to Dvorin's data. We published an article about this last April.