Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Colder winter-weather spells bring more severe allergens to the cities that already suffer the most.
No lie: The worst place to spend the holidays is Austin, Texas. You might think that ringing in the New Year with good music and a margarita on your favorite patio bar would make the town the envy of the nation, but you'd be mistaken. The weather's warm, but it brings with it the dreaded "cedar fever."
While the rest of the nation is struggling with sniffles and flus, Central Texans get whacked in the noses by the reproductive overachievers of the region. The mountain cedar is the Dallas Cowboys of juniper trees: A triple-threat offense against which there is no defense. Mountain-cedar pollen isn't just any ol' pollen. Research has shown that a specific protein coat makes this pollen more intolerable than most.
So I sneezed in sympathy when I read the news that the holiday pollen allergy season is upon Texas, and it's worse than ever this year. Why? The reason may be climate change. Brandon Morse explains what the "pollen bomb" means:
The sudden arrival of pollen happened overnight after the trees were treated to a much colder, and wetter, December than usual.
KVUE, the news station within Austin, says they counted over 3,000 grains per cubic meter under a microscope, a number professional allergists say they haven’t seen before Christmas… ever. What’s more, experts seem to be in agreement that it’s only going to get much worse in what is being called a “tidal wave of cedar pollen.” Weirdly, this description isn’t too far off the mark. The orangish dust coming off these mountain junipers is doing so in wafts, making it look like the trees in the hills are smoking.
While that's a terrifying forecast for allergy-sufferers like myself, it's maybe not unprecedented. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, last January, the pollen count climbed to 16,675 grains per cubic meter in Austin, the highest level recorded in 16 years. It reached even higher in San Antonio (22,670). January 2014 saw the second-highest pollen levels in Central Texas history.
Last winter's pollen bomb was so explosive, in fact, that several people called the fire department, mistaking the massive pollen cloud hanging over Austin's Greenbelt for smoke.
That was the state of things last January. This winter's onset of cedar fever has been sudden, severe, and early. KXAN reports that on December 16, the first day that the recorded cedar pollen count in Travis County (Austin and environs) broke 100, it damn near reached 1,000. (As a former resident, I can tell you that these sudden spikes can cause people to miss work and school and fun and breathing.)
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America lists several Texas cities among its "allergy capitals," and all of them—McAllen, San Antonio, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Dallas, Austin, Houston, and Abilene, in order of severity—have climbed the rankings in recent years. If changing weather patterns are exacerbating the prevalence of pollen, then one of those high-ranking Texas cities may be bound for the top spot.
Raise high a Shiner Bock, Texans, and enjoy the warm weather this week. Then go get that allergy shot.