Pollen in the Bulkley Valley in June. (Grant Harris photo)

Allergy season packs a greater wallop this year

Expert says past two years created perfect conditions for pollen bloom

I’ve never experienced seasonal allergies before, but I think this year is a first for me. The sea-green fog that has been rolling through the valley and the mucus-coloured pollen that covers everything outside is starting to irritate me.

My black vehicle looks green and my patio furniture is almost impossible to keep clean. I’ve had a dull headache for weeks now and my sinuses are plugged. I feel drained. It seems like the pollen this year is worse than ever. Am I imagining things?

It turns out, I’m not, and it could be caused by climate change.

The pollen around here is from pine and spruce trees. Experts were already warning of a bad allergy season months ago. Last year’s record-setting high temperatures in the summer stressed out the trees, causing them to produce more pollen this spring.

“I understand that Smithers, like many areas in B.C. and Yukon, had massive amounts of spruce pollen released this year. This is what we call a “pollen bloom’,” said Robert Guy, a professor in the department of Forest & Conservation Sciences at the University of B.C. “This kind of thing is normal for spruce and happens every several years.”

He explained the pollen comes from the small male cones. If all else remains fairly normal this summer, there should also be a big crop of female cones that become more obvious as the season progresses, producing lots of seeds.

Bumper cone crops occur over large geographic areas roughly every four to six years, with really big events 10-15 years apart. He added that weather conditions in the previous two years are the best predictors of such events: specifically, a cool wet year followed by a late spring/early summer that is warm and dry, particularly toward the end of June when cone buds are initiated.

“Certainly, like the rest of B.C., Smithers had very warm weather during the heat dome last year and May and June both had below-average precipitation. In contrast, the summer of 2020 was cool and very wet compared to normal. These are perfect conditions to induce a massive spruce pollen bloom and, later this summer, a bumper cone crop (we’ll see!).”

And according to a recent study, pollen loads are up more than 20 per cent since 1990 and the allergy season is starting about 20 days earlier.

“There is evidence that pollen counts have been rising more generally across North America over the past few decades. This has been linked, at least in part, to climate change,” Guy said. “It may have something to do with increased stress, which can stimulate plants to be more reproductive.”

One way to combat this for future allergy seasons is to plant more female trees because they don’t produce pollen. But if climate change is to blame for last summer’s heat dome and that is to blame for this year’s allergy season, maybe we need to be doing more to help mother nature.

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There are some simple things we can do as individuals, like changing a light bulb. Replacing one regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb will save 150 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. We can also drive less and recycle more. Or try using less hot water and buying products that need less plastic packaging. Also, simply turning off electronics when we aren’t using them will save a lot of energy.

These are all things we can do today to help for the future but in the meantime, over-the-counter allergy medications might have to do the trick.

Those suffering from allergies can also stay inside during peak pollen times and try exercising outside in the early morning.

Drinking lots of water and eating foods with lots of Vitamin C can also help. Some natural food experts also tout eating raw, local honey but research hasn’t confirmed this.

Pollen season should end in July, so hang tight, we’re almost there.


@MariscaDekkema
marisca.bakker@interior-news.com

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