Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 18, 2016

It's another beautiful morning at the Tidal Basin, and since yesterday it has become much easier to find flowers starting to pop.

UPDATE: The NPS determined that the buds reached the "peduncle elongation" stage yesterday, March 17.

Even just in the 24 hours since the last update it has become much easier to find flowers out. It's still a very small minority of trees, and on most of those trees (with some exceptions) it's still only a very small number of flowers. But if you're heading down over the weekend and braving the weather you won't have much trouble finding at least some cherry blossoms out.

Not every tree is on the same schedule, but most of the trees are somewhere along the "peduncle elongation" stage to the "puffy white" stage. It wouldn't surprise me if the NPS announces later today that we've reached the "peduncle elongation" stage. That's good news in terms of the flowers coming out soon, but no so good news in terms of their vulnerability to potential frost in the next few days.

It was just about as perfect a morning as you can ask. Perfectly clear, very still, and with just the right amount of chill in the air. It all made for a glorious sunrise. We're still technically a couple of days from the spring equinox, but the sun is rising right at 90° today and tomorrow, which means it's lining up directly down the Mall. It also means that it's one of only a few times of the year that Mr. Lincoln gets to watch the sunrise directly (ie. the statue in the Lincoln Memorial sees direct sunlight). The Tidal Basin at sunrise is pretty special, but watching from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on a clear morning at this time of year is hard to beat.

Yesterday I tried to answer some common questions I've been getting. My answers remain basically the same. But here are some slightly tweaked versions.

Which Weekend Is Best To Visit?

My suspicion at this point is that the peak bloom might end up splitting the weekends. But the weekend of March 26-27 (Easter) is shaping up to be the better weekend to see cherry blossoms out. It's also likely to be crowded--it's Easter weekend and with many schools on spring break.

But it's still not entirely clear when the trees are going to be in full bloom. The complication is that we've got a cold snap on its way and it's hard to know how hard that will apply the brakes. If the forecast was for more warm, sunny days like this, it would be much easier.

If the peak bloom comes midweek, both days might still end up being wonderful viewing, but Saturday is the safer bet simply because it's closer to the peak bloom. The further you get away from peak bloom, the greater the risk of fewer flowers. This timeline illustrates what I mean. If the cold weather puts the brakes on enough for the peak bloom to be pushed back to Friday or Saturday, viewing will almost certainly be excellent on both days of the weekend and even potentially into the beginning of the following week.

If you'd rather avoid weekend crowds, mid- to late-next week is also looking good.

Will I See Flowers if I Visit This Weekend (March 19-20)?

If you decide to brave the weather this weekend, yes, you'll be able to find cherry blossoms out. The vast majority of the trees aren't blooming yet, but there are some scattered around that are starting to have flowers. A lot more have popped out even since yesterday morning. Another warm, sunny day today will help convince even more to come out to play. All of the photos of the flowers below are from around the Tidal Basin this morning.

More and more will come out in the coming days, although the pace might slow quite a bit when the cold weather arrives. There should be a few more flowers out on Sunday than Saturday simply because it's further along the progression.

Around the Tidal Basin, the indicator tree is the safest bet (here's how to find it). It's in full bloom at the moment (see photos in yesterday's update). Unfortunately it's not ideal to pose with for family photos or selfies because its branches are pretty high up.

There are also some cherry blossoms blooming along the Potomac (Ohio Drive). If you're looking for some, there are a couple next to the boat landing near the FDR Memorial (here's how to find it). I have some photos of them in yesterday's update.

If you're planning to take some portrait photos and want flowers in the background, the tulip magnolias at the George Mason Memorial and behind the Korean War Veterans Memorial are looking magnificent.

Will Snow/Rain/Frost Affect the Cherry Blossoms?

My answer yesterday was that I don't know how the cold snap is going to affect the trees. Since then, the experts at the NPS have also spoken about it. It boils down to "maybe."

The gist of it is this: Snow itself shouldn't be a problem, but the cold temperatures that come with it might be. When the buds are in the "peduncle elongation" development stage they're vulnerable if a hard frost forms. And unfortunately, a lot of the buds are in or near the "peduncle elongation" stage now. But there's really no way to predict if the conditions are going to end up being conducive to frost forming. If it does form, it can damage or kill the buds. In a severe case, according to the NPS, "A late frost can prevent the trees from blooming at all." I'm not aware of that ever happening to DC's cherry blossoms--it certainly hasn't happened anytime recently.

Naturally, I'll be keeping a close eye on it and updating as necessary.

Photos From This Morning

All of these were taken around the Tidal Basin this morning. (I'm referring to the ones of the flowers, of course, not the ones of the sunrise from the Lincoln Memorial).

None of them is of the indicator tree, which is in full bloom at the moment. I have photos of it in yesterday's update. The ones here with flowers open are all on other trees that are around the Tidal Basin itself.

This should give you some sense of what you can expect to find if you head down to the Tidal Basin today or over the weekend.

National World War Two Memorial Fountains

They're back!

FDR Memorial Fountains

They're still out of action.

Want to Help Support DC's Cherry Trees?

If you'd like to help support the care and upkeep of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, the Trust for The National Mall has launched an Endow a Cherry Tree Campaign. Donations go to the official Cherry Tree Endowment, which will give the National Park Service additional resources to fund the care, maintenance, and possible replacement of the cherry trees. You can find more information here.

The Trust is dedicated to marshaling private support for maintaining and improving the history National Mall area. I'm not affiliated with the Trust--just an admirer of their efforts.

Last updated March 18, 2016 2:40 pm

View Comments

    • It's not impossible, but odds are against there being much left by then. There might still be some stragglers, though, since not all the trees are on exactly the same schedule.

  • David,
    Excellent website with useful tips/ advice and simply gorgeous photos! Thanks so much for the daily updates with pictures- this is such a wonderfully informative resource and is so helpful when planning a trip.

  • When do you think would be the best day to visit, my choices are Thursday the 24th or Monday the 28th?

    • I'm still inclined to think that it's looking very good for the middle to end of the coming week. If I was planning my trip, I'd choose the 24th out of those options. We're going to have a few days now of cold weather that will put the brakes on, but from Wednesday through Friday next week the weather forecast calls for quite warm temperatures, which will hurry things along again.

  • We are military and moving in June. My buck list included professional family cherry blossom pictures which we have scheduled on Tuesday the 22nd at 430pm. Think we will have good pics? Or should we just do what you suggested earlier "some portrait photos and want flowers in the background, the tulip magnolias at the George Mason Memorial and behind the Korean War Veterans Memorial are looking magnificent."

    • Your photographer won't have any trouble finding some cherry blossoms in bloom for a backdrop. There are several whole trees out--still a minority of the thousands of trees that are there, but more than enough to look beautiful as a backdrop for a family photo. The George Mason Memorial is very close by--just steps from the Tidal Basin--so it's an easy backup to have just in case. And the new weather forecasts look like Tuesday might end up much nicer than earlier forecasts predicted. So you should end up with some great photos!

  • This is by far the best,most comprehensive forum for the cherry blossom "watch",and based on your assement,I may try for next Thur. or Friday morning.I want o get down there to catch the sun rise..Many thanks.

Share
    Published by
    David

    Recent Posts

    Cherry Blossom Watch Update / Kwanzan Edition: April 12, 2019

    The Kwanzan cherry blossoms are coming into bloom. There are plenty around town that are in full bloom now. The… Read More

    Originally posted 2 weeks ago

    Reader Photos 2019 | Part 4

    Here are some more of the beautiful photos of 2019’s bloom of the cherry blossoms that were submitted by Cherry… Read More

    Originally posted 2 weeks ago

    Cherry Blossom Watch Update: April 10, 2019

    The cherry blossoms are mostly done now. You can still find flowers out, but they're fading fast. The good news,… Read More

    Originally posted 2 weeks ago

    Reader Photos 2019 | Part 3

    Here are some more of the beautiful photos of 2019’s bloom of the cherry blossoms that were submitted by Cherry… Read More

    Originally posted 2 weeks ago

    Reader Photos 2019 | Part 2

    These are some of the beautiful photos of 2019’s bloom of the cherry blossoms that were submitted by Cherry Blossom… Read More

    Originally posted 2 weeks ago

    Reader Photos 2019 | Part 1

    These are some of the beautiful photos of 2019's bloom of the cherry blossoms that were submitted by Cherry Blossom… Read More

    Originally posted 2 weeks ago