It's a nuisance to the 60 million or so U.S. allergy sufferers, but to car wash owners like Richard Davis of Columbus, Ga., it's "gold dust."
Spring is the season for pollen, and this year there seems to be a surplus. Parts of the South at times appear to be smothered in a yellow gas as clouds of pollen, most prevalent after the morning dew dries, ride the wind.
When the wind dies, the pollen grains settle, on lawn furniture, front porches and of course, cars.
Davis, who has owned 4th Avenue Car Wash since 1983, would enjoy the season more if he weren't among the 10 percent to 30 percent of adults who have "allergic rhinitis," or what's commonly called hay fever.
"It's great for business, but for me personally, it just kills me," Davis said Monday as yellow-coated cars lined up outside his 1020 Veterans Parkway car wash.
Here at the height of the pollen season, he can't guarantee anyone who drops off a car while on the way to work that it won't have pollen on it at the end of the day. He has to warn each drop-off customer that no matter how clean he gets a car, it may have a fresh layer of pollen by the time the owner picks it up.
If folks get the sense the pollen season peaked too abruptly, they may be right. Until recently the region was experiencing a relatively wet, cold spring, which appears to have delayed the pollen flight by about two weeks. Instead of a more gradual pollen season, Columbus apparently is having an instantly intense one.
"Most plants, including trees — and that includes pine trees, which is most of the pollen you're seeing — their flowering is based on day length and on accumulated heat hours, and then the weather," said Russ Pohl, chief of the reforestation department for the Georgia Forestry Commission.
"So the cold weather through most of the spring sort of delayed that accumulation of heat hours, and things were moving along very slowly. Then suddenly things got hot, and reached that critical mass of heat hours in a hurry. . . . And then the other thing is, the pollen is not released unless you have dry weather."
Once it got hot and dry, plants popped like pollen bombs. Under these conditions, "I think we're going to see a compressed pollen season, and it probably won't last as long as it often does," Pohl said.
Columbus' pollen count Monday was rated "very high" with the more prevalent pollens being birch, oak and sweetgum, according to weather.com. As most allergy sufferers by now know, the yellow pine pollen on their cars isn't what gives them the sneezes.
Pines release pollen in "tremendous amounts," Pohl said, but "the grains are bigger, and not only are they bigger, but they're round and smooth, and they don't generally irritate people's lungs and cause allergic reactions."
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