“Frost-free” days increase, so does allergy season


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Climate Central’s graph illustrates how the number of frost-free days in Des Moines has increased over time. (Climate Central)
Jenna Ladd | April 11, 2018

Given that spring snow fell across Iowa this weekend, it may be hard to believe that the frost-free season across the U.S. is actually getting longer.

A recent report found that, on average, the last spring freeze is occurring earlier while the first fall freeze is happening later. Researchers define the frost-free season as the total number of days between the last day of 32 degree Fahrenheit or lower weather in the spring and the first day of 32 degree Fahrenheit weather in the fall.

The lengthening of this season means that pollen-producing plants have a longer growing period. One study in particular found that the growing season for ragweed, a common allergen in the U.S., lengthened by two to four weeks between 1995 and 2009. This data was collected from ten sites from the southern U.S. through Canada. Iowa has added nine days to the average length of its frost-free season from 1986-2015 when compared with the average from 1901-1960.

Not only are allergy-causing plants benefiting from longer growing seasons, but an uptick in atmospheric carbon dioxide also increases pollen counts. Last year was the worst allergy season in recent record and experts expect this year to be similar.

Dr. Joseph Shapiro, an allergist and immunologist from California told CBS news, “A recent study showed that pollen counts are likely to double by the year 2040, so in a little more than 20 years we’re going to see a significant increase [in seasonal allergies].”

Climate Central’s recent report provides an interactive graph that allows users to select a U.S. city and see how the frost-free season’s length there may have changed since 1970.

Allergy season longer because of climate change


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Pollen from ragweed is a common allergen for people with seasonal allergies. (Stacey Doswell/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 21, 2018

Tuesday was the first day of spring, but that is not good news for everyone. Last year was the worst year for seasonal allergies and experts expect this year to bring more of the same. Climate change is allowing for pollen-producing plants to bloom early and stay alive longer as warmer seasons grow in length.

Allergen and pollen counts are skyrocketing and the length of allergy season is growing around the country thanks to higher average temperatures. Since 1995, the length of ragweed allergy season in Iowa has increased by 15 days according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Center for Disease Control reports that more than 50 million U.S. citizens now have seasonal allergies each year, and that number is growing. Medical experts have reported that many people are beginning to suffer from seasonal allergies for the first time during adulthood. Allergy symptoms can range from itchy eyes and sneezing to potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock. It is estimated that these symptoms cost the U.S. healthcare system $3.4 billion and $11.2 billion every year in direct medical expenses, and keep many Americans home from work.

Dr. Joseph Shapiro, an allergist and immunologist from California told CBS news, “A recent study showed that pollen counts are likely to double by the year 2040, so in a little more than 20 years we’re going to see a significant increase [in seasonal allergies].”

More common and intense seasonal allergies are just one of the human health consequences of climate change. Studies have shown that U.S. residents can also expect increased incidences of heat-related illness, higher risk for diseases from vectors like ticks and respiratory complications related to poor air quality. A complete map of climate change’s effect on human health in specific regions of the U.S. can be found here.

On the Radio: Climate statement addresses public health


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Des Moines University Professor Yogi Shah addresses media during the release of the Iowa Climate Statement 2015.

 

June 29, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks ways the Iowa Climate Statement 2015 highlighted public health issues related to climate change. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Climate Statement and Public Health

SCIENTISTS AND RESEARCHERS IN IOWA HOPE TO USE THE STATE’S ROLE AS THE FIRST IN THE NATION CAUCUS TO BRING PUBLIC HEALTH AND CLIMATE CHANGE INTO THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE.

THIS IS THE IOWA ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS.

THE FIFTH ANNUAL STATEMENT ENCOURAGES IOWANS TO ASK PRESIDENTAL HOPEFULS HOW THEY PLAN TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE WHILE ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL IN IOWA. DES MOINES UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR YOGI SHAH CITED SEVERAL PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS AFFECTING IOWANS INCLUDING INCREASED FLOODING, INCREASED RATES OF INSECT-BORNE DISEASES, AS WELL AS INCREASED ALLERGEN RATES AND A LONGER ALLERGEN SEASON.

YOGI SHAH: “Because of increased CO2 in the air, the ragweeds, the poisons, the proteins are stronger and causing more allergies. So that way we are seeing longer seasons. In Iowa itself, shown by national studies, we have 19 extra days of allergies which we didn’t see a few years ago.”

188 SCIENTISTS FROM 39 COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES SIGNED ‘IOWA CLIMATE STATEMENT 2015: TIME FOR ACTION.’

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE STATEMENT, VISIT IOWAENVIRONMENTALFOCUS.ORG

FROM THE UI CENTER FOR GLOBAL AND REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH, I’M JERRY SCHNOOR.

Climate action can help curb hay fever, asthma


Allan Foster/Flickr
Allan Foster/Flickr
KC McGinnis | May 27, 2015

With one in three Americans exposed to worsening allergies and asthma as a result of climate change, sustainable practices could mean fewer hay fevers.

The National Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Sneezing and Wheezing report recently highlighted the United States’ allergy epicenters – areas with both high ragweed content and high levels of ground-level ozone, or smog – revealing that about 109 million Americans live in these areas. The report shows that the changing climate is leading to higher production of allergenic ragweed pollen and favoring the formation of smog in industrial areas. These factors can lead to an extended allergy season across the U.S. and increases in asthma attacks, especially in children.

An estimated 24 million Americans were diagnosed with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) in 2012, with symptoms ranging from runny nose to throat, eye and ear irritation. These illnesses often lead to missed work days – more than 3.8 million, according to the NRDC. More concerning, however, is the increase in asthma among children, a chronic lung disease which can be triggered by allergens.

With air quality closely linked to allergy and asthma severity, decreasing CO2 emissions is expected to lead to improving respiratory conditions, especially in heavily populated and industrial areas. This is especially true with industrial facilities and power plants, which both source ozone-producing chemicals and drive climate change with carbon emissions. Minimizing these emissions could have the double impact of slowing climate change and reducing smog, leading to decreases in hay fever and asthma severity.

Last year’s Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, further highlighted the importance of decreased emissions. See the full statement here, and the complete list of Iowa Climate Statements, including this year’s, which focuses on a call for presidential candidates to address climate change, here.

On the Radio: Iowa Climate Statement highlights health risks from climate change


The Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, outlined climate change issues that are affecting respiratory health among Iowans, like childhood allergy-induced asthma. (Kristy Faith/Flickr)
The Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, outlined climate change issues that are affecting respiratory health among Iowans, like childhood allergy-induced asthma. (Kristy Faith/Flickr)
October 13, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at highlights from the Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, released Friday. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowa Climate Statement

Hotter temperatures, higher humidity levels, and other conditions attributed to climate change are hurting the health of Iowans, according to leading Iowa scientists.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, released in October, outlined climate change issues that are affecting respiratory and cardiovascular health. The fourth annual statement was signed by 180 scientists and researchers from 38 colleges and universities across Iowa.

With a longer growing season, plants produce more pollen – pollen that is increasingly potent – making it more difficult for many Iowans to breathe. Childhood asthma rates are also on the rise, due in part to higher indoor moisture levels. Rising temperatures have allowed disease-carrying mosquitos and ticks to migrate further north into the Midwest, resulting in cases of Dengue Fever and Ehrlichiosis being reported in Iowa this year.

For more information about the Iowa Climate Statement 2014, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.