Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 9, 2016

It's a sunny, still, and spring-like morning on the Tidal Basin. Yesterday the peak bloom forecasts were moved forward. Here's how the trees look today.

UPDATE: The NPS determined that 70 percent of the trees reached the “green buds” phase on March 8. Typically, that comes at least three weeks before peak bloom. The closest analogy in recent years was when the green buds stage was reached March 7, 2005. That year, peak bloom came on April 9. But the temperatures we’re experiencing now aren’t typical, and they are expected to accelerate the process. There are still another four defined stages–Florets Visible, Extension of Florets, Peduncle Elongation, and Puffy White–to go before we reach peak bloom.

Yesterday we had some major changes to the peak bloom forecasts. First, the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang put out their forecast of peak bloom falling sometime during the period March 24 to 28. A few hours later, the National Park Service revised their forecast to March 18 to 23 (the previous forecast, issued last week, was for March 31 to April 3). Both are in light of the much warmer than usual temperatures we have now and are expected to have at least into the next week or so.

There’s no overlap in the current peak bloom forecasts, and obviously they can’t both be right. Understandably, a lot of readers are asking which to believe.

I don’t know. Both groups have a pretty good track record in recent years, and it’s unusual for them to diverge so much. I tend to rely more heavily on the NPS ones because they know the trees so well and they’ve been doing this a very long time. But having seen the trees this morning, including the indicator tree (see photos below), I’m a bit skeptical that we’re likely to see peak bloom by March 18. The indicator tree still has a way to go before it starts blooming, and that’s usually a week to ten days ahead of the others.

That said, the trees can accelerate surprisingly quickly. Here’s a great example from last year when we saw a massive difference in just two days–compare the photos from April 6 and April 8. So I know better than to say it’s not possible.

Now that we’re getting closer, I’ll be increasing the frequency of the Cherry Blossom Watch updates, so it’s worth checking back periodically or following along on the Cherry Blossom Watch Facebook page. And I keep the peak bloom forecasts page up to date with the latest predictions–it’s entirely possible they could be revised yet.

It’s a stunning spring morning at the Tidal Basin. It’s still and warm, with another near-80 degree day in store. And it’s this spell of much warmer than normal weather that’s responsible for the accelerated peak bloom forecasts.

Photos from This Morning

Here are some photos taken this morning around the Tidal Basin. Because not all the trees are on exactly the same schedule, I aim to get close-ups of several different trees so that we get a more representative sense of how they’re progressing.

The Indicator Tree

Here are some shots of the so-called indicator tree, a single tree that is consistently a week to ten days ahead of the others. You can find out more about it here.

Tulip Magnolias

There are some large tulip magnolias near the Tidal Basin that are often about a week ahead of the cherry blossoms. They’re not flowering yet, although they have a few buds ready to pop.

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool has been drained for the winter, but over the past several days they’ve been slowly refilling it. It’s roughly half-way filled now and should be good to go soon.

FDR Memorial Water Features

They’re all still drained.

National World War II Memorial Fountains

They too are still drained.

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 10, 2016 8:00 am

View Comments

  • When do they typically fill/start the fountains? Does it coincide with peak bloom at all? So if peak forecast is March 18-23, they'll turn the fountains on around March 18th?

    • They usually wait until they're confident that the water features aren't going to freeze over. There doesn't seem to any really cold weather on the horizon, so I'd expect them to be filled any day now. But it varies year to year--this time last year, for example, the Tidal Basin was still frozen over and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool remained drained well into April and even while the cherry blossoms were blooming (although they were also doing repairs).

  • On the NPS page, in 2010 the cherry blossoms went from green buds to peak bloom in 17 days, the fastest of the years listed. Could this year be similar to 2010, perhaps slightly quicker? That would put peak bloom at March 21-25.

    • I am confused, is the peak bloom still scheduled for March 18-23? or March 31-Apr 3? Because, according to the website. The blossoms are still listed as green buds, meaning - they still have a long way to go despite the warmth we've had. Citywide however has been a different story, I've seen cherry blossoms already at or close to peak.

      • The current NPS forecast is March 18-23. And yes, they only passed the "green buds" stage a few days ago, and in a normal year that can take three weeks or longer to get from there to peak bloom (shortest recently, I believe, is something like 17 days). But the calculation is that the 80-degree-plus temperatures for several days in a row are going to accelerate the progression several times over. I've just posted some new photos from this morning that show development even since a couple of days ago.

    • It wouldn't surprise me at all. A record-setting stretch of 80-degree-plus days like we're having now is going to speed things up a lot. Last year they really sprinted through the late stages.

  • Hello, I will be in Washington DC April 6th. I hope the cherry blossom are not over. I hope no rain, tunderstorm before.

    • Unfortunately it looks like the main ones will be gone by then, but there's another variety that might be blooming then. There's more information on them here.

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