Editor’s note: After four and a half years of writing this quarterly “Pest Perspectives” column, Kim Kelly Tunis, director, quality assurance and claims at Rollins in Atlanta, has handed the reigns over to two Rollins colleagues: Chelle Hartzer, B.C.E., manager – technical services, and Tim Husen, Ph.D., B.C.E, manager – technical services. Before joining Rollins, Hartzer was with The Industrial Fumigant Company, where she spent five years. Prior to Rollins, Husen was the technical training and quality control manager at Waltham Services. Hartzer kicks off the new column this month.

Around this time of year, I always start getting questions about what the pest problem will be this year. It’s a tough question with no good answer. It would be nice if we could just Google “pest issue of 2017,” but we can’t. I tried that. It didn’t work.

A multitude of factors go into pest populations: temperature, moisture, food resources, habitat and many more. Research has shown climate change has pushed many pests farther north and extended the season for some.

Warmer temperatures early in the season will mean we’ll see insect pest issues earlier and in higher numbers as the seasons progress. Conversely, if this winter is extremely cold and those cold temperatures last further into the spring than normal, there could be a reduction in many insect issues. Over the next three months, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently predicting a 40 to 70 percent likelihood of temperatures being above normal for the eastern and entire southern United States, with a little band of below-normal temperatures along the U.S./Canada border. For anyone in the southern U.S., that could mean ongoing issues throughout the winter, and for those in the Northeast, be prepared for pests earlier this year.

WET WOES. Heavy rainfall or lack of moisture will influence pest populations. In 2016, there were massive floods in Louisiana and North Carolina. This can force pests like rats and ants from one location to another. After the floods in Texas a few years ago, I received lots of calls about snake sightings and what to do about them. The increase in standing water often leads to higher mosquito populations. It also can impact termites and termite treatments. An article on www.pctonline.com last year by Paul Hardy discussed the possible need for retreatments and early bait replacement. There were 16 named storms in 2016 (10 is considered average) and current 2017 predictions call for an “above average season” by Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science.

DRY, DRY, DRY. On the other side of the precipitation weather spectrum is drought. Extreme dry conditions can push pests towards watered lawns and into structures. Currently, the Northeast region, South and California are under severe to extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. For those areas, you may see more occasional invaders and in much higher numbers. Pillbugs, springtails and oriental cockroaches or other peri-domestic species (e.g. American or smokey-brown) may be more of an issue this year in dry areas as they migrate toward moisture. An increase in perimeter sprays could be needed to keep these pests pushed back away from structures.

TREND SETTERS. We can also look to the past and see some trends that are likely to continue this year. Bed bug work has increased dramatically over the last 10 years, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb predicting that trend will continue, though maybe more modestly. With the emergence of Zika virus on the U.S. mainland last year, mosquitoes and the diseases they carry are going to stay in the news this year, which likely means another year of significant mosquito work. Last year, there was a large collaboration between public health agencies and NASA to forecast the spread of Zika. Turns out, their forecast was accurate! It’s still a bit early, but I suspect there will be some great collaborations that will help PMPs anticipate problem areas.

Brown marmorated stink bugs are another insect that has been in the news due to their tendency to invade homes and structures in the fall. These insects are now found in all but seven states, but their spread is slowing somewhat. These insects are more an agricultural pest, but occurrence in structures in the fall is directly related to peak populations during the spring and summer in the eastern U.S.

PLANNING AHEAD. So what’s a PMP to do? Look back and look forward. What did you see in this past year in your area and when? Check out your pesticide usage to make sure you have what you need in stock for the first quarter. Watch what weather patterns are occurring and where significant changes in weather are going to happen short term and long term. Any type of extreme (very hot, cold, wet, dry) will likely cause some type of emerging pest issue. Keep an eye on news, any pest management groups you are part of and even social media to give you a bit of advance warning.

Personally, I am part of a few Facebook groups that connect me with PMPs across the country so I can get an idea of what’s happening in many areas. While we can’t predict exactly what’s going to be “the thing” in 2017, we can keep an eye on numerous factors to help respond early and accurately to developing issues. As the intergalacticly renowned philosopher Han Solo, said, “You can predict all you want, but everybody knows what predictions get you.” Be prepared, be proactive, and be flexible so you can be ready to act on issues as soon as they arise.

The author is Rollins’ technical services manager. She can be reached at chartzer@gie.net.