Allergies in Colorado: High tree pollen now; Grasses and weeds may be a problem later

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Denver downtown skyline, Colorado with Rocky Mountains in spring season (Photo credit: Getty Images)

2021 Front Range pollen season

DENVER (KDVR) — This spring, we’ve enjoyed big rains and it’s made the grass green, the bulbs burst and trees leaf out and flower.

If you’ve taken a stroll around a Denver city park, you can probably vouch that some scenes look like something you’d see in a Monet painting. But as rain causes plants to burst with color, it also can cause them to burst with pollen, and later this spring it can get bad.

With more rain on the way this Mother’s Day weekend, there’s more hope for Front Range lawns and gardens that have suffered through extreme dry periods over this past summer, but it will also provide ample opportunity for once-dormant wild land grasses and weeds to wake up and shed their pollen grains later this spring.

While that’s a daunting possibility, there is good news today about what a wet spring means, beyond the obvious hopes of further drought relief. While some of us are already sneezing, the generally wetter conditions should add humidity to the air, which tends to weigh down pollen grains and reduce overall pollen count.

Today the pollen count is high, but it could be much worse.

During times of dry weather, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the pollen count can become considerably worse, as the microscopic particles can better float on the wind and travel great distances.

Our region has enjoyed above-normal precipitation totals as of late, but one counter effect is due to our high elevation: The higher up you go, the less able our air is to evaporate water vapor into the invisible humidity, which can tamp pollen down. This drier air coming out of the mountains can wick away much of the beneficial moisture quickly, resulting in higher pollen counts.

Rain is better than no rain, but the positive impacts for our pollen count may not be quite as dramatic due to our mile-high level.

Is it allergies or COVID?

Pollen is a hot topic this spring not just because everything outside is finally waking up from its winter slumber, but because in this time of COVID, it’s easy to think anything like a sneeze or sniffle could be more than just allergies.

How can you tell the difference between pollen and coronavirus? WebMD says symptoms of the virus are more likely to include a dry cough, body aches and fever, while with allergies, it’s more likely to resemble a head cold.

In fact, pollen here can get so bad, especially around pine trees, it can accumulate on cars and driveways into a yellow film.

But, it’s the pollen you can’t see that is the biggest irritant. Cottonwood and Cedar will max out now through the end of spring and feature smaller, nearly invisible graduals that can travel deep into nasal passages and lungs.

Grass pollen is more of a force in late spring, then it takes a back seat during the heat of summer, but can pop up again during the end of summer as our region transitions toward fall in September.

Once early fall arrives, it’s all about the weed pollen. No, not that kind of weed. We’re talking Ambrosia trifida and common ragweed, known scientifically as Ambrosia artemisiifolia. Both, by the way, are Colorado natives!

Here’s where it’s good, bad and ugly! Rain this month will help to knock down the tree pollen a bit, but that’ll in turn only aid in growing the grasses and weeds taller and bushier, which in turn will result in much higher pollen count releases during the hottest and driest months.

While the wet period now is helping a lot, it’ll likely make things much worse as we head toward summer. In fact, it may be nothing to sneeze at!

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