D.C. pollen levels well above average so far this year

The meteorologists in our department usually receive a daily "Pollen and Spore Report" from Susan Kosisky. Susan is the Chief Microbiologist at the US Army Centralized Allergan Extract Lab located in Silver Spring. She is also the Director of Aerobiological Reporting and Evaluation at the US Army Garrison-Forest Glen. Basically, she knows what she's talking about when it comes to pollen in the D.C. area.

Just last week, the tree pollen levels in the D.C. area were in the moderate range, which I thought was a little on the early side. I decided to ask her a couple questions about the season so far and what that might mean for the spring ahead of us.

I asked her about the warm weather we've had (at least in January, as well as a few spikes in February) and how that has attributed to the pollen levels.

Kosisky replied, "Indeed, like last year with the warmer winter weather, it looks like we are seeing some higher levels for our early pollinating trees (maple, elm, alder, cedar/cyp/juniper, birch) family pollen members. I have attached a graph which shows cumulative pollen totals for January 1998-2013. 2012 and 2013 levels for January are quite a bit above the average. The average January cumulative tree pollen total is around 16.6 grains/cubic meter for the month. In 2012, we were at 57.2 grains/cubic meter and in 2013 we had 58.8 grains/cubic meter."

Here's the graph below.

January Tree Pollen Levels 1998-2013

She continued, "The daily average for the month of January (1998-2013) is around 1.34 grains/cubic meter of tree pollen. In 2012 the daily average was 4.09 grains/cubic meter and this year (2013) the daily average was 4.2 grains/cubic meter. Surprisingly we were slightly higher this year."

Looking back at some of the weather data, I found that January 2012 as 4.7 degrees above average for the month and January 2013 was 4.3 degrees above average. Both very warm starts to the year. February has seen a different story, however, with the month 5.3 degrees above average last year, while it is currently 0.6 degrees below average through 19 days this month. As you can see last year, the highest tree pollen count was early, coming on March 28th. Typically over the past 15 years the highest county comes in mid to late April.

Highest Tree Pollen Count 1998-2012

With this current trend of colder temperatures, it's a wonder if the peak levels of tree pollen will be earlier this year because of the warm start in January. Kosisky did end the response to me by writing, "it of course depends on the weather." With temperatures forecast to be at or below average through at least next week, we can at least rule February out as being a bad month for tree pollen sufferers.