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Valley News Dispatch

Warmer weather brings more pollen, potholes to Western Pennsylvania

| Saturday, April 1, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
A car splashes through a water-filled pothole along Constitution Boulevard in New Kensington last March.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
A car splashes through a water-filled pothole along Constitution Boulevard in New Kensington last March.

The mild winter is over and it's time for the next season.

For some, though, spring isn't the season that follows winter — it's allergy season.

About one in 10 people is bothered by seasonal allergies, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A winter like this year's, with multiple record-breaking warm days and less than average snowfall, may be good for those who hate the cold. But for those who suffer from seasonal allergies, it's a double-edged sword.

Dr. Michael Palumbo, of Pittsburgh-based Allergy and Clinical Immunology Associates, said winter weather has a dramatic effect on the severity and length of the following allergy season.

“In general, when we have a milder winter it leads to a longer allergy season in spring,” he said.

But, Palumbo said, it can also lead to a milder one.

“We already saw appreciable pollen counts in February,” Palumbo said. “This usually leads to a longer, but more steady pollen season without as many really severe days.”

Pollen.com, a website with localized pollen reports, forecasts very high levels of pollen in the Alle-Kiski Valley this weekend.

With tissues in hand and behind bloodshot eyes, Ahmed Ali, 28, of New Kensington, said his allergies already have started bothering him.

“I think I'm allergic to, like, everything in Pennsylvania,” he said. “I swear, literally every plant in this state is trying to kill me right now. I just wake up miserable.”

Palumbo said cabin fever, that feeling of having been cooped up indoors for too long, can be tough on allergy sufferers.

“We can't wait to throw those windows open in the spring to allow the warm breezes in, but the pollen blows in on those breezes,” he said.

Palumbo recommends not opening windows until after the early morning, when pollen is most prevalent.

Parents can take steps to help protect their children.

“Kids who have significant spring allergies need to start taking their allergy medicines before pollen season starts and daily through the season,” Palumbo said. “After they have been outside playing, they need to come in and wash their face and rinse their hair thoroughly.”

Children with spring allergies should never go to sleep in the clothes that they wore outdoors, Palumbo said.

The worst part of spring

Just as allergies and spring follow winter, so too does another season — pothole season.

“We are continuing to fight potholes every day, but we would consider this to be a slightly milder pothole season compared to last year,” said Valerie Peterson, a PennDOT spokeswoman, Potholes form when water seeps into asphalt cracks and freezes in the soil below. That loosens and lifts the asphalt.

When the water thaws, a void is left under the road surface. When a car passes over the road, it breaks up and forms a pothole.

Amy Clark, 47, of Harrison, said negotiating potholes is part of driving in Pennsylvania.

“Sometimes it makes you look like a drunk driver, swerving around all these holes in the road, but you have to,” she said.

Henry Fitz, Westmoreland County engineer, said that even in mild winters, a cycle of freezing and thawing can wreak havoc on roads.

Fitz said the mild winter caused a number of freeze-thaw cycles — perfect for creating potholes. Still, he said, “As far as the county roads go, we made out pretty well this winter.”

The mild winter was especially welcomed by towns such as New Kensington, which depends in part on funds from the federal Community Development Block Grant program to repair roads. Those funds could be cut if Congress goes along with President Trump's proposed federal budget.

City Clerk Dennis Scarpiniti said that funding cut could have a “dramatic effect” on road resurfacing projects.

Peterson said the best way to get through pothole season is to report bad state road conditions to PennDOT.

“Motorists are an extension of our eyes and ears,” she said.

Municipal or county road repair needs should be forwarded to the appropriate roads department.

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675 or mmedsger@tribweb.com.

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