PORTLAND, Maine — Spring in Maine is a season measured less by the calendar and more by what's happening outside.
It can be tough to say when spring actually starts. Is it when the first migratory birds return? Is it when temperatures are generally above 50 degrees? Is it when the first flowers bloom and trees finally get their buds?
If that last sentence resonates with you, it may mean you're among the droves of people who suffer with seasonal allergies. Spring has sprung when you spend most of your day sniffling and reaching for tissues as opposed to soaking in the sunshine.
Maine's changing climate plays a role in allergy season, too. The signs point to a warming trend, bringing the spring bloom earlier and keeping the leaves around for longer.
Dr. Renee Fay-Leblanc, chief medical officer at Greater Portland Health, said she has noticed a change in when people start to report allergy symptoms.
“I think we are noticing that the weather is getting warmer, and I think with the warmer weather we’re seeing allergies start sooner," Fay-Leblanc said.
She made it clear there were certainly seasonal variations, but Maine has been on the milder side this year.
“Usually allergy season in Maine starts in late April or early May. If you have a warmer spring, it might start earlier," Fay-Leblanc told NEWS CENTER Maine.
According to data from the National Weather Service, the average temperature in Portland for March 2022 was 35.7 degrees Fahrenheit. This is 1.6 degrees above the normal average of 34.1 degrees.
In Bangor, the difference between normal was even more significant. March 2022 had an average temperature of 33.1 degrees, which is 2.5 degrees above the normal 30.6 degrees.
These higher-than-average temperatures have already kickstarted regrowth statewide. It's especially noticeable at the coastline, but inland areas will catch up quickly.
The general trend for temperatures for the next week is to be near or above average.
As more and more plants blossom, allergy season soon will be in full bloom, too. The trend for an earlier start to the growing season has been noted by the National Weather Service, too.
Donny Dumont at the National Weather Service office in Gray has been watching these trends closely.
The new climate averages were released last year, which shows how the 30-year averages from 1991 to 2020 have shifted in 1981 through 2010.
“In the spring, we trended up 1 degree on average in Greater Portland compared to the previous 1981 to 2010 period,” Dumont said.
One degree may not sound like a big amount, but it's significant over the course of 30 years.
The warmer spring and fall correspond with other noted trends through the year. Every season, on average, has warmed in Maine.
Warmer temperatures mean a longer growing season, too.
Dumont said the growing season has started about three days earlier on average and ended three days later on average, when comparing the 1991 to 2020 climate period to the 1981 to 2010 period.
"Overall, we've gained almost a week on average in the growing season," Dumont said.
If you suffer with seasonal allergies, this may not be good news.
On the other hand, farmers are able to spend extra time in their fields and change up the crops they grow.
Quite a few people may be excited to see warmer weather happening earlier each spring, but there are certainly people who know this means more antihistamines and tissues.
These trends already are noted as Maine warms.
Maine's changing climate will likely continue this trend, too, leading to even longer growing and, thus, allergy seasons in the future.