Intense pollen levels and wind seeding misery, irritation

By Linda Weiford, WSU News

timothy hay pic
Major pollen offender: Timothy hay.

PULLMAN, Wash. – An unfortunate overlap in tree and grass pollination combined with brisk winds is posing challenges for people whether they’re allergic or not. The proof is before their eyes — and in them.

Grasses in the Inland Northwest are pollinating hard on the heels of a tree pollination season delayed by a cool and damp spring, according to arborist Tim Kohlhauff of WSU’s extension program in Spokane.  Add windiness to the mix and “it’s kind of like a dust storm, but with a yellow tint to it,” he said.

Yesterday’s pollen readings from the National Allergy Bureau’s regional monitoring station in Coeur d’ Alene show high concentrations from three tree species and all types of grasses.

Pollen levels have been surging into the high range intermittently since May 23, first from trees that pollinated roughly two weeks later than normal, and more recently from grasses that flourished in spring’s cool, wet weather, said Kohlhauff.

Pollen mickey mouse pic
Up close, pine tree pollen resembles Mickey Mouse. (Photo by Andy McCubbin, WSU plant pathologist)

“Overlap occurs a little bit each year but not to this extent. We’re definitely dealing with more particulate matter in the air,” he said.

Grasses such as timothy hay, brome and bluegrass began pumping out pollen in early June, converging with the pollen surge from trees including pine, juniper and Douglas fir, he said.

The results are visible in a yellow dust coating car windshields and felt as a host of symptoms.

“For people who aren’t allergic, this means a gritty sensation in the eyes, nose and throat. For those who are allergic, they’ve got an intense concentration of tree and grass pollen giving them cold-like symptoms,” he said.

The wind, in particular has been stirring up trouble by circulating the confluence of pollen into the air.  Gusts reached 28 mph in Spokane and 34 mph in Pullman on Monday and were only slightly lower yesterday, according to WSU meteorologist Nic Loyd of AgWeatherNet.

Things should improve when tree pollinating ends in late June – two weeks later than usual, said Kohlhauff. Grass pollination is expected to peak now through mid-July, he said.


Media contacts:

Tim Kohlhauff, WSU arborist, 509-477-2172,

Linda Weiford, WSU News, 509-335-7209,