Austin's Pollen Bomb and Climate Change Bunkum

At The Atlantic's CityLab, Kriston Capps has an article on how "A 'Pollen Bomb' Drops on Texas Cities." The situation sounds apocalyptic:

"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."

So, a colder and wetter than usual December in Austin -- caused by climate change -- led to the pollen bomb?

According to the NOAA National Weather Service database, December 2014 saw 1.06 inches of precipitation in the Austin area. The long-term average for the month since records began in 1891 is 2.57 inches; 2014 was the 35th driest December in 121 years of records for Austin. Wetter than usual? Actually, it sounds like the complete opposite. It was drier than usual.

Same goes with January 2014. Austin received only 0.45 inches of precipitation, ranking as the 21st driest since records began in the 19th century. The average January precipitation is 2.03 inches.

The average temperature during December 2014 in Austin was 55.6 F. The long-term average is 52.1 F.  January 2014's average temperature was 50.6 F. The long-term average for this month is 50.4 F. In other words, both months were warmer than usual, not colder.

There is most definitely not a significant trend towards cooler January or December temperatures in the Austin area since records began. January has a near-perfect non-correlation, and December has a significant warming trend. There is a significant warming trend since 1970 for January, but no significant trend over the past 30 years. For December, there are no significant trends since either 1970 or 1985, but both correlations are towards warming, not cooling.

December also has a significant trend towards less precipitation, not more, since records began, and negative correlations towards less precipitation since 1970 and over the last three decades. There has been no significant trend in January's precipitation since records began in 1892, nor since 1970 or 1985.

Even the coldest minimum temperature in Austin this December -- 30 F -- was well above the long-term average for this climate variable (26 F) and a long ways from the record low of 4 F in 1989. January 2014's coldest minimum temperature (22 F) was equal to the long-term average (23 F), and nowhere near the record low set in 1949 of -2 F.

So climate-change induced colder and wetter than usual months of December and January lead to pollen bombs in Austin, but the climate trends for these months are not towards colder and wetter conditions, and the examples given for terrible pollen bomb months were actually warmer and dryer than usual? This does not compute.

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