At a press conference this morning at the Newseum, the experts at the National Park Service announced their first peak bloom prediction for 2017. They predict that the Yoshino cherry blossoms will reach peak bloom sometime between March 17 and 20. That’s much earlier than the average. The historical average is around the first few days of April.
A few days ago, the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang issued their own peak bloom prediction. They expect peak bloom will fall “during the window between March 23 and 27 this year, centered on the 25th.”
The NPS’s prediction for an early bloom has also prompted a schedule change for the Welcome Area that takes over the parking lot on the northeast corner (ie. near the paddle boats). Rather than opening on March 20, as originally planned, they’re moving it up to March 17.
What Does “Peak Bloom” Mean?
The peak bloom date is the day on which the NPS cherry tree crew judge that 70 percent of the Yoshino blossoms are out.
It’s a specific day that the threshold is passed. So when a forecast expects peak bloom between such and such dates, it means that they expect the 70 percent threshold to be crossed at some point during that range.
It does not mean that the flowers will be at peak bloom for that entire date range. It also does not mean that you have to be there only on that specific day to catch the spectacle. More on that below.
How Accurate Are Peak Bloom Forecasts?
The experts at the National Park Service, some of whom have been tending the cherry trees for decades, and in some cases multi-generationally, are the first to point out that they’re not really confident in their prediction until about 10 days out. There are just too many variables that can come into play, especially since the prediction is based so heavily on the crystal ball of long-range weather forecasts.
Sometimes, the predictions nail it. Other times, Mother Nature has other plans, and it’s not at all unusual for the forecasts to be revised as we get closer to the date as the actual weather conditions diverge from the long-range weather forecast they initially relied on.
So the peak bloom forecasts are the best information we have to go on, but that doesn’t mean things always pan out as expected. So be sure to keep checking in for any updates. I keep the peak bloom forecasts page up to date with the latest information.
Are There Any Other Forecasts?
The two best peak bloom predictions are the ones issued by the National Park Service and the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang. Both have a good track record, even if they’re not perfect every time.
From time to time there are some other ones issued that are worth noting, and I add those to the peak bloom predictions page.
How Long do the Flowers Stay Out?
The day the cherry blossoms reach peak bloom is not, of course, the only day one can see the flowers. At minimum, you can expect a beautiful sight for at least a few days before the peak bloom date and at least a few days after. Sometimes they can be out for a couple of weeks.
It’s impossible to predict exactly how long and how long after the peak bloom dates the flowers will be out, because it depends on the immediate weather conditions. In ideal conditions (cool, dry, calm), there can still be flowers to see a week or even more after the peak bloom date. In less-than-ideal conditions (wet, windy, hot, stormy), the flowers disappear more quickly. I’ve put together a timeline with photos from previous years to give an idea of what you can expect to see during the different stages of the bloom. And if you’d like to find out more about what peak bloom means I have a post on that.
The crucial point is that you don’t have to be there precisely on that specific day to be greeted with a beautiful sight. There are still flowers to see in the days before and after that.
And if you’re too late for the Yoshino peak bloom by two or three weeks, you might in luck for a different variety that is also very pretty: the Kwanzan cherry blossoms. Tulips are another spring highlight around the area.
How Are They Looking Today?
Here are a couple of shots from this morning. You can find more on this morning’s update.
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.