For some folks, February's balmy days may have been a delightful prelude to the warm months to come. But for some allergy sufferers, the unusually temperate weather can be a source of sneezing, wheezing, and dread.
Does this weird weather mean we are in for an early start to spring -- and high pollen counts?
Maybe, say local allergists and pollen experts. But the pollen forecast is more complicated than you might expect. And pollen isn't the only problem for many allergy sufferers.
"A warm February usually means spring pollen season will come early," said Penn Medicine's John Bosso. "But that can be nixed by a cold March or a late snow."
Moist earth tends to encourage plant growth, leading to more pollen. Tree pollen is the first to come in this area of the country, followed by grass pollen.
"We're getting close to when the plants start pollinating, and there' s no snow, so the plants are probably getting very happy," said John Cohn, a professor of medicine and pediatrics with Thomas Jefferson University and director of allergy and immunology.
We could be in for an early pollen season, according to Barbara Van Clief, manager of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's tree-tending program.
"We're seeing things we normally don't see this time of year, " Van Clief said. "We saw trees blossoming very early last year, and that may be true this year as well."
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, tree pollen readings from Delaware, the closest measuring station to Philadelphia, are moderate, while other pollens have not yet been detected.
Even when the pollen kicks in, the weather can have a mediating effect. Rain can reduce the pollen count. By the same token, a warm, dry, windy spring day can be particularly rough on allergy sufferers.
Bosso said say some people with allergies may already be feeling some symptoms, but not necessarily because of pollen.
"Some people may be have problems with mold," Bosso said.
He's talking about outdoor molds that normally would die in the winter, if we had more days with below-freezing temperatures.
But what about the pollen?
If the weather stays around 50 to 70 degrees this week, Bosso said, people with pollen allergies might want to start their medications now, rather than waiting until the usual mid-March starting time.
Jonathan Spergel, allergy and asthma specialist with Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said patients who use nasal steroids, which take about a week to kick in, may want to start them now. Also, they should make sure to have fast-working medicines like antihistamines on hand. After all, he noted, March is just a day away.