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WEATHER

Pollen at ‘unusually high levels’ amid early spring in Germany

With temperatures in the mid-teens, people across the country have begun stowing away the winter jackets in hope of an early spring. But the warm weather has brought with it a few undesirable side effects - including the highest levels of pollen in the air since 1985.

Pollen at 'unusually high levels' amid early spring in Germany
Hay fever season has come early Image: DPA

An early spring is nothing to be sneezed at – except in the case that it is. Spring weather in February has seen Germans across the country flock to local parks, rivers and lakes to check out the strange yellow disc in the sky. But for sufferers of hay fever, their least favourite time of the year has come early. 

Reports across the country are that pollen is at unusually high levels for February. In Berlin in mid-February, pollen levels had reached their highest recorded since 1985. 

SEE ALSO: 'Early spring' to continue in Germany over the weekend

In total, an estimated 12 million Germans suffer from hay fever – with children and adolescents the most acutely affected. 

Aside from the warm weather, the dry conditions are also perfect for an early spring. 

As reported by DPA, sales of tablets, nasal spray and tissues are approaching April and May levels. 

The German Pollen Information Service Foundation (Deutsche Stiftung Polleninformationsdienst) forecast pollen at “rarely observed levels” throughout the lowlands of the north and west of the country. 

The reason for the unusually high levels has been the simultaneous release of pollens by plants across the country in the mistaken belief that winter had reached its natural end. 

Torsten Zuberbier, the head of the Allergy Centre at Berlin’s Charite Hospital, said it was a difficult time for the allergic across the country. 

“For allergy sufferers, it was not a dream winter,” he said. 

“Already at Christmas time, pollen allergy sufferers were plagued (all over the country) – perhaps except in the higher mountains.

“You have the feeling that climate change has reached us. Plants love this weather”. 

The early release of pollens does not necessarily mean an easier March-May period for allergy sufferers. Several plants and trees are yet to release their pollens but are set to do so momentarily. 

“One can already expect that the birch will soon start to flower with full force,” says Zuberbier.

Officials have sought to reassure people that pollens are non-toxic and do not damage the body. The symptoms of hay fever – weeping, itchy eyes and sneezing – are caused by the body’s response to pollens contacting mucous membranes.

Where these symptoms are significant however – particularly if there is difficulty breathing – authorities encourage a visit to the doctor or pharmacy.

As The Local reported yesterday, the downsides to Germany’s mild winter (aside of course from the pending and unpredictable impacts of climate change) do not end there.  

The early spring has increased the chances of a mosquito outbreak in summer, with many of the pests able to successfully live through the mild winter and get ready for their egg-laying phase a few months early. 

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WEATHER

Western Germany hit by second round of severe storms

Parts of Germany were once again pummelled by heavy thunderstorms on Monday - just days after the city of Paderborn was struck by a devastating tornado.

Western Germany hit by second round of severe storms

A severe weather warning was issued on Sunday by the German Weather Service (DWD), who cautioned residents in western and southwestern regions of the country that fierce gusts of wind, hailstones and heavy rain could once again be on the horizon.

A  second tornado could “not be ruled out” in the southwestern regions of the country, DWD warned. 

North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate, were struck by heavy rain and hailstorms and strong gusts of wind throughout the afternoon.

However, the worst of the thunder and hailstorms warnings were for the state of Baden-Württemberg. 

Here, DWD issued a Stage 3 weather warning – the second highest possible. Severe thunderstorms with gale-force winds at speeds of up to 110km per hour were forecast, with up to 50 litres of rain per square metre falling in a short space of time.

According to the meteorologists, the storms are expected sweep across to the eastern regions of the country and ease off in the evening.

The storms and severe weather warnings came days after the city of Paderborn in North Rhine-Westphalia was hit by a devastating tornado.

According to the local fire brigade, 43 people were injured in the storm, with 13 of them needing to be hospitalised and one person reportedly fighting for their life. 

Railway services were cancelled across many parts of the west over the weekend, but resumed again on Monday.

Air travel in some parts of the country was also affected, with Frankfurt Airport in the central state of Hesse saying there was disruption to flights on Friday. 

Videos posted on social media depicted the strongest part of the tornado tearing through the city, ripping trees up by their roots.

The damage to infrastructure and buildings caused by the storm is estimated to be in the millions.

Schools remain closed

As of Monday, several schools and nurseries remained closed in both Paderborn and nearby Lippstadt due to fears that the buildings couldn’t be safely entered.

In the small town of Lippstadt alone, five nurseries and seven schools were closed for repairs on Monday, with administrators unable to say when they would reopen their doors.

“Given the extent of the damage we see at the various locations, it is currently unthinkable that classes can be held there in the next few days,” said Mayor Arne Moritz (CDU).

In Paderborn, meanwhile, drones were exploring five closed school buildings to check whether there was a risk of damaged roofs imploding. The streets where the schools are located have been closed off to the public and the police are believed to be patrolling outside to stop anyone entering.

READ ALSO: Tornado in western Germany injures dozens

Damaged roof in Paderborn

A damaged roof in the aftermath of the Paderborn storms. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

More frequent tornadoes? 

Tornadoes aren’t infrequent in Central Europe, but recently appear to be gaining in frequency and intensity, which experts suggest could be a result of climate change. 

In June 2021, a deadly tornado swept through several villages in the Czech Republic near the Slovakian and Austrian borders, killing six people and injuring a further 200. 

At time, climatologists pointed out that until 2020, the Czech Republic only saw a handful of tornadoes each year – and most of them were relatively mild.

Speaking to WDR on Sunday, climate researcher Dr. Mojib Latif drew a direct parallel between warmer temperatures and more violent and regular storms.  

“In Germany there are approximately between 20 and 40 tornadoes per year,” he told the regional media outlet. “We have to reckon with that. As the climate gets warmer and thunderstorms become more violent, the frequency of tornadoes will also increase.”

However, some experts have been more cautious about drawing a direct link.

“That simply cannot be determined at the moment,” meteorologist Jürgen Schmidt told RND. 

Schmidt thinks the perception that tornadoes have increased in recent years could have a slightly more prosaic explanation.

The fact that people are able to record them on their smartphones and share these images more widely could contribute to this impression, he said. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

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