For the vast majority of people, ragweed is little more than a green and yellow shrub. But for about 10% of the US population, the plant is a one-way ticket to weeks of misery: a runny nose, streaming eyes, and even hives. The more plants there are, the worse the reaction.
Here’s the bad news: The 2019 ragweed season is underway, and it’s already being described as brutal.
Here’s some worse news: It’s not going to get better anytime soon.
Ragweed thrives in hot, wet weather—precisely the kind of summer we now know to be typical of the climate crisis. This year, the US has experienced above-average rainfall, coupled with warm temperatures. Such perfect conditions (for ragweed) beget more plants, producing a longer ragweed season and postponing relief for allergy sufferers.
“The last few years, the trend has been for higher ragweed counts, and part of that is the longer season and general climate warming,” allergist Stanley Fineman told Web MD. “We anticipate the pollen will be significant this year.”
Expect conditions around the US to worsen as the weeds’ 1 billion pollen grains per plant (!) percolate around the country. Wind makes the reaction worse while helping the plants to propagate their seeds more widely.
Pollen levels usually peak in mid-September, and peel off with the first hard frost of the year. In the tristate area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, that’s likely to come in late October; in midwestern states, it’s usually a little earlier. In southern states such as Texas, it could be as late as November.
And if you’re among the lucky ones who don’t spend autumn with tissues on standby, don’t get too smug. Climate change also is a friend to tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease. Warmer temperatures increase populations of mice and deer—both tasty tick fodder. The tick population rises in turn, increasing the spread of diseases such as Lyme or ehrlichiosis.
Those long, hot summers come at a very nasty cost.