The great meltdown is upon us, as above-average temperatures trigger little trickles of water that seem to be coming from everywhere. Drivers are lined up at area car washes, and the streets seem to be a little busier again, as people eagerly venture out without coats as if it is full-fledged spring. (Speaking of which, it is time to “spring” ahead an hour this weekend.) But although these signs are enough to put a little spring in many a step, not everything left behind after a big meltdown is sunshine and rainbows.
Itchy eyes, nasal congestion, coughing – it all sounds like either leftover winter bugs or maybe the beginning of allergy season. But wait – there are no buds on the trees or pollen flying around the air, so what’s the deal?
The answer may be lying on that freshly exposed grass – it’s called snow mold.
According to information provided by UMN Extension Educator Michelle Grabowski, snow molds are caused by fungal pathogens that thrive in chilly, humid temperatures just above freezing to around 60 degrees.
There are two types of snow mold that form in Minnesota. Grabowski says pink snow mold shows up like round, dead patches in lawns that can be an inch or two across or as large as a dinner plate and can actually appear pinkish in color. Gray snow mold, she said, causes pale gray to tan patches of matted down, brittle grass that can spread up to 3 feet across and contain small, black dots.
According to Allergist Dr. Patrick Stoy of Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes, there are several different kinds of molds that come out this time of year, but the snow molds happen to be a couple that experts have actually identified.
“I don’t know why they call it that because it isn’t actually on top of or in the snow,” said Stoy, “but it does seems to be something that shows up as the snow melts and it’s a little warmer outside.”
Stoy says snow mold can be an explanation of why people are experiencing allergy symptoms before spring has even really sprung.
“It’s usually common allergy symptoms typical of hay fever; there isn’t a particular or unusual symptom seen from this,” said Stoy, who says to look for clear nasal drainage and red, itchy eyes. Over-the-counter antihistamines are usually enough to ease suffering from this.
“If it gets really miserable, people should come in to get allergy tested, but then we’re probably talking allergy shots,” said Stoy. “For the most part it shouldn’t be that bad; it’s a nuisance, but most people survive it,” he joked.
Meanwhile, to help cut down on the amount of snow mold in the yard, Grabowski suggests spreading out any remaining snow piles so the snow melts quickly and the grass below is exposed to sun and air. She also says to rake the lawn to remove any leaf debris and to fluff up matted down patches of turf. The snow mold will go away without killing the grass as things dry out.
Every day the meltdown continues, the ice on area lakes weakens. Although by law anglers in the northern parts of the region are still allowed to have their fish houses on the lake (the southern part of the region, including Detroit Lake, had to have them off Monday), officials are suggesting people begin to think about wrapping up the season.
“When the temperatures are in the 50’s like this day after day, the ice deteriorates very fast,” said Nathan Olson, area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota DNR.
Olson says in addition to obvious thin ice dangers, it also becomes difficult for anglers to get their fish houses off when it’s prime melting conditions.
“The top layer of ice is becoming slushy, so the biggest issue people will start seeing is they can’t get on the ice,” said Olson. “What can happen, too, is that the ice can begin to pull away from the shore and people just get on.”
“And if you’ve driven by Little Detroit lately, you’ll see the ice is heaving substantially around the shoreline,” he added.
If people wait until it’s too difficult to get fish houses, Olson says the DNR can confiscate them and fine the owners.
“So if people are worried about that, they might want to get them off now because there’s no guarantee with this weather that they’ll be able to as time goes on,” said Olson. “And although I’m done ice fishing, I know there will still be some out there, so they should definitely be careful about checking those ice conditions before going out.”