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Experts: Delayed spring might foretell tough allergy season

Buds are budding around the pond at Eisenhower

Buds are budding around the pond at Eisenhower Memorial Park in East Meadow on Saturday, where people are getting some exercise. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Annoyed by the delayed start of delightful spring weather?

Allergy sufferers could have even more reason to feel aggrieved.

The unseasonably cold temperatures and the recent nor’easters probably will make tree-pollen season more compact, yet more brutal.

“You’re increasing the density of the pollen on a given day,” said Don Leopold, a professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. “It might seem like a more intense amount of pollen.”

The rainy and even snowy days seen in March and early April also might have kept people indoors instead of venturing out in Mother Nature.

That means they will not have had time to adjust to gradually rising levels of pollen.

“Now they’ll be blindsided,” said Dr. Punita Ponda, associate chief, division of allergy and immunology for Northwell Health.

Individuals who have learned to dread the yellow-green pollen that coats cars and sidewalks on windy days might wish to take some precautions soon, doctors said.

“Adults who have allergies, and children as well, should start on their medication before the season begins, one to two weeks before,” said Clifford Bassett, clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone Health.

Once the temperature starts rising, trees will begin releasing their pollen.

“As soon as the warm weather starts kicking in, we’re looking at a pollen surge,” Bassett says.

The Island has an abundance of trees that rely on the wind to carry their pollen — unlike flowering trees, such as apple, more often found in upstate orchards, which need insects to propagate.

“Long Island is basically an oak and pine forest,” Leopold said. “That’s the natural forest that is significant in pollen production.”

Maples, including the nonnative Norway maples common on Long Island, where they are valued for brilliant scarlet leaves in autumn, also release their pollen into the air. So do willows.

A few more factors could worsen Long Island’s tree pollen season. And once again, weather plays a leading role.

Though the 2017-2018 winter had some memorably cold days, it was not sufficiently arctic to kill off pollen-producing tree buds, experts said.

Out-of-state trees also could potentially add to the suffering.

“Pollen comes from large air masses,” Leopold said. “You can get a big air mass from way south of Long Island or winds out of the Northwest, bringing you pollen from their species.”

Think, a la Shakespeare, “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.”

As seasoned allergy sufferers probably can attest, a few days of rain can offer relief by washing pollen out of the air. In contrast, sunny and windy days can send pollen counts soaring.

Air pollution also plays a role, as greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, which can accelerate plant growth while turning the oceans acidic.

While New York’s tree-pollen season typically lasts about two months, ending in late May or early June, summertime weeds also could be especially troubling.

Blame those drenching nor’easters — again. Weeds and grasses love extra water — along with extra carbon dioxide.

“It is probably going to be a heavy year of pollen,” said Antonio DiTommaso, professor of weed science at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in Ithaca. “If there were a drought, you could probably say it might not be as bad.”

With “higher carbon dioxide levels,” he added, “those are just the perfect ingredients for high pollen production and particularly, a more virulent pollen from ragweed.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained the incorrect title for Don Leopold, a professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.