Tales from the Trail

Honk! Wheeze! Atchoo! It’s getting hot in Washington, and it’s not just the weather

USA/Spring in Washington means cherry blossoms, azaleas and a collective wet sneeze from the hundreds of thousands of allergy sufferers in the region. This year, a long snow-covered winter may actually have protected plants while an early burst of summer-like temperatures called forth the blossoms, creating what felt to many like a pollen bomb.

Plants that would usually have bloomed in an orderly sequence — forsythia, daffodils, tulips, cherry blossoms, dogwood, azaleas and lilacs — are all flowering together. Cars, streets, pets and other plants are covered with a gritty yellow-green sneeze-inducing residue. Allergy symptoms are the common result, and they cost a bundle.

It doesn’t help that Washington is part of a U.S. trend spurred by climate change, with the signs of spring coming about 10 days earlier than they did two decades ago. That means some missed connections in the natural world, as some plants and animals adapt better than others to the early onset of spring.

There’s another kind of early heat settling in over the U.S. capital, and that’s the run-up to new legislation to curb planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, the next priority for the Obama administration now that health care reform has passed through Congress. The compromise legislation is expected to be unveiled next week, a few days after Earth Day on April 22.

As Washington deals with this meteorological and legislative warming trend, scientists are concerned about some heat that has apparently gone missing. About half of the excess heat generated by human activities over the 150 years or so simply can’t be accounted for. Lots of this extra heat is stashed in the world’s oceans, scientists report. But the rest of it has to go someplace and researchers haven’t figured out where.

A lighter way to follow volcanic ash

It almost seems like a case of adding insult to injury, but the volcanic ash that is wreaking havoc over European airspace has started tweeting. ICELAND-VOLCANO/

And, while trying not to take it personally, @theashcloud has amassed more followers than some of us who have been on Twitter for some time.

But it’s a peppy ash cloud, asking for suggested #ashtunes  and with tweets like: “The Ash Cloud would like to know if any happy tales have come out of the disruption I have (not deliberately) caused!Tweet them to me?#ash”