This mild winter evidently is something to sneeze at.
Seduced by three months of gentle weather, trees throughout the Philadelphia area have begun emitting their pollen well ahead of schedule as they begin their annual reproductive frenzy.
It is all happening so quickly that Donald Dvorin, an allergist who is the region's official pollen tracker, will start posting his daily counts next week, about 10 days earlier than usual.
Dvorin said his decision was prompted by his patients - allergy-sufferers ambushed by the microscopic grains.
"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, the counts begin in mid-March and are posted daily on Philly.com and published in The Inquirer.
"If you look at the buds on the maple trees, they appear to almost be opening," Dvorin said.
"I think we're about two to 21/2 weeks ahead of schedule," said Anthony Aiello, horticulturalist at the Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill. He has noticed that elms and alders are well ahead of typical timetables.
At the root of the early budding was an extremely mild December-through-February period, the fourth-warmest in Philadelphia in 138 years of recordkeeping.
Every year, trees release their pollen in the spring to sow the seeds for the next generation. Typically around here, the pollen season starts in March, picks up the pace in April, and ends in June.
In recent years, because of general warming, the season has lasted a little longer and started a little earlier, Dvorin said. This year, much earlier.
For 25 years, he has been an official counter for the National Allergy Bureau, the branch of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology responsible for measuring pollen.
Dvorin measures it atop a building at Broad and Race Streets, using a trap that captures the grains.
The early-pollen phenomenon is not just local. Similar early stirrings have been reported elsewhere in the country.
On the other side of Pennsylvania, a trap atop Allegheny General Hospital captured significant pollen grains last month - a first for February in the decade that pollen has been measured at that location.