Weekly Obsession: The Pollenocalypse

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 10:05pm

Cars across Nashville got an unexpected paint job last week. So did houses and sidewalks and mailboxes and any living creature who stood idle in the out of doors for more than 15 minutes.

As “winter” officially closed, the mercury rose into an early-summer-style mid-’80s range, and a chartreuse sheen descended across Metro, coating every sedentary object.

Noses stuffed up, eyes swelled shut, throats became irritated, and a steady drum beat of sneezes crashed in rhythm with the polyphony of the early spring.

Pollen is the latest in-mover into these environs.

It’s not, of course, unusual for Nashville to find itself beset by the reproductive detritus of plant life, and it’s not unusual for a blanket of the powder to cover the city, sitting as it does near the nadir of a basin, God’s thumbprint on Middle Tennessee.

But not in years has the pollen count been so high. Allergists and meteorologists and air-quality experts will say a count of 25 grains per centimeter qualifies as “extremely high.”

According to the Metro Health Department, before Thursday’s soothing rains, the pollen count in Nashville was 390, moving the count from extremely high to “Pollenocalypse.”

The culprit was that balmy winter we suffered through, the warmest in Nashville in 40 years and the 13th warmest on record.

With no sustained frosts, only three days under 20 degrees and a paltry 0.4 inches of snow, the flora didn’t get a day off. Coupled with the early heat of spring — last week averaged 20 degrees above normal — and everything’s coming up roses … and ragweed and lilac and everything else that produces seeds.

The late-week rain dropped the temperature and swept much of the pollen into the storm drains, providing a bit of relief from the collective sinus pressure.

But Nashville may be trading one problem for another. Warm winter, early spring heat and the rains will likely have us trading the Benadryl for the Chigarid. Tortured by plants in March, we’ll be suffering from insects come May.