It's still too early to guess with any confidence when DC's cherry blossoms will bloom in 2020, and no peak bloom forecasts have been issued yet. Stay tuned for the first peak bloom forecasts to be announced around the beginning of March.
The winter so far has been much warmer than normal. January and February have both tracked well above average. If that continues--and that's always a big "if"--it points to an earlier-than-average bloom, more late-March than early-April. But there's still plenty of time for cold weather to arrive and settle in, so it's still too early to predict with confidence.
There’s not much new on the trees since yesterday, but I’ve been getting a lot of questions such as how this week’s weather forecast will affect the cherry blossoms and how this coming weekend is shaping up. So I’m focusing below mostly on answering some of the most common questions. You can also find below some photos of how the trees are looking this morning and some logistical updates if you’re coming from out of town.
But first, a quick update from the Tidal Basin. There’s not much change since yesterday. As usual, some trees are ahead of the others and with a few warm days would be close to popping. But there aren’t any warm days forecast in the next week or so to really give things a jolt, so it looks like it’s going to be more slow going for a while yet.
Most of the trees are in various bud stages and still have some work to do before blooming. If you really go hunting for them, you can find blossoms out now, but it’s only a tiny proportion.
Common Questions from Readers
Will the snow/rain/sleet affect the cherry blossoms? Will we have a repeat of last year?
I’m not expecting any real problems from the winter weather that’s about to hit us. It’s expected to bring sloppy conditions, with a mix of rain, sleet, and snow. What it’s not expected to bring is very cold air. And that’s important, because the cherry trees can handle rain and snow without much trouble. What can cause them trouble, as we saw last year, are very cold temperatures with sustained periods overnight in the teens or low 20s. None of the forecasts I’ve seen are calling for anything like that cold.
But even very cold temperatures don’t cause much trouble unless the buds are in a very specific stage of their development right before blooming. And only a tiny percentage of the buds are in that stage now.
So I don’t expect any real issues from the rain/sleet/snow expected this week. There is always some minor risk that heavy, wet snow might be too much for some of the old, fragile branches to bear, but that’s not a widespread issue, and the NPS cherry tree team do a great job with pruning and keeping the trees healthy.
But even if the air coming in isn’t cold enough to cause damage, it is cool enough to keep things moving at a glacial pace. So there’s unlikely to be much development on the trees over the coming week. Which leads us to next weekend…
How is it shaping up for this coming weekend (March 24-25)?
There’s a very small number of flowers out now–mainly on one specific tree (more on that below)–and there might be some more coming out by next weekend. But we’re talking about a small percentage, and with the cool temperatures expected through the rest of this week it doesn’t look like there’s going to be enough warmth to bring most of them out.
So if head down to the Tidal Basin this coming weekend, technically, yes, you’ll be able to find cherry blossoms out, but they’re likely to be few and far between. The odds are marginally better on Sunday than Saturday simply because it’s just that little bit of extra time for them to work with.
I’ll be posting more updates during the week which will give a clearer picture as we get closer to the weekend.
An alternative worth seeing is the blooming of the saucer magnolias in the garden behind the Smithsonian Castle. They come out a little earlier than the cherry blossoms and should be in full bloom sometime this week. They’re quite spectacular. You can see an example from last year here.
Also worth noting: because of the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, the official opening ceremony of the National Cherry Blossom Festival has been pushed back one day, to March 25.
How long do the cherry blossoms stay out?
They generally stay out a week or two, but it really depends on the weather, and spring in the DC can bring a mixed bag of conditions. Warm, rainy, windy, and stormy conditions hurry the cherry blossoms out more quickly. They hang around longer in cool, dry, calm conditions.
To give a visual sense of the variation, I’ve put together a photo timeline using recent past years to show what to expect, when.
Photos from this Morning
Here are some photos taken this morning to give a sense of how things are looking down at the Tidal Basin today.
More flowers are out on the indicator tree, but it’s still not quite in full bloom. Here’s how it’s looking this morning. If you’re heading down to the Tidal Basin, here’s how to find the indicator tree.
If you’re coming in this week from out of town, there are two major things to be aware of. The first is the winter weather closing in over the next few days. That might create some travel delays Tuesday and/or Wednesday (with possible flow-on issues for flights coming from harder-hit areas in the northeast).
Secondly, the March for Our Lives rally will be in the downtown area on Saturday. Organizers are planning for up to 500,000. Actual turnout might be lower or even higher than that. Either way, you can expect heavy competition for hotel rooms, crowded public transport, possible street closures in parts of downtown, and generally a large number of people out and about.
The Welcome Area is open for business. It’s in the parking lot next to the paddle boats, and you can find information and gift shop tents, portajohns, and food and drink tents as well as an entertainment stage. That also means that that parking lot is closed for parking (and will be through at least April 1).
And on the subject of parking, if you haven’t been down there for a while, it’s worth knowing that much of street parking in the surrounding area (and around the National Mall, for that matter) has been converted to metered parking. That includes the stretch of Ohio Drive near the Tidal Basin as well as lots A, B, and C under the 14th Street Bridge. You can pay at the meter stands or by using the ParkMobile app. I have more detailed information on parking here.
The traffic flow along Ohio Drive is normal for now. When things get busier close to the bloom they usually implement a one-way traffic flow.
Clear sunrises might be a bit scarce in the coming week, but we’re coming up on the equinox, so the sun is rising pretty much directly east. That creates an opportunity for lining up the sunrise from the Lincoln Memorial with the Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument. It also shines directly into the chamber of the Lincoln Memorial an onto the statue; you can see an example at the top of yesterday’s update.
Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
After briefly being drained a couple of weeks ago, the Reflecting Pool is full again.
Also worth mentioning is that while the Lincoln Memorial remains open, the sides and back are barricaded off as they do repairs on the roof. You can still access the steps and the main chamber.
FDR Memorial Water Features
Some, but not all, of the FDR Memorial’s water features are back in action.
Gear Rental Deals
If you’re looking to rent some gear, there are some deals worth knowing about:
- BorrowLenses has 15% off any rental. Use coupon code TAKE15OFF. Offer expires 3/12 and orders must be delivered/picked up by/on 3/19. They’re also offering 20% off a selection of popular gear (use coupon code 20FOR20 and only applies to these lenses and cameras. And they also have free shipping this week on orders over $99 with coupon code GETFREESHIPPING (Expires 3/19. Order Must be Picked up/Delivered by 3/23).
- Lens Pro to Go currently has 15% to 25% off through March (must be delivered by March 30).
Locally, Ace Photo, District Camera, and f8 Rentals also offer rental gear, although their selections are often not as extensive as the big online places. And if you’re shooting video, DC Camera’s offerings have some interesting gear.
Sony Trade-In Offer at B&H Photo
Coinciding with the release of their new Sony A7III, Sony is putting an aggressive marketing push behind the other cameras in their Alpha range. That includes a trade-in deal where you can trade in your old non-Sony gear for one of their newer cameras (but not the brand-new A7III, it seems). You can get a quote immediately online as well as get a special trade-in bonus. You can find details at B&H Photo.
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.