When Will Washington DC’s Cherry Blossoms Bloom in 2018?
It’s still far too early to know precisely when Washington DC’s cherry blossoms will bloom in 2018.
They bloom sometime in the period from mid-March to mid-April, but the bloom only lasts a week or two and its timing in that period varies year to year.
If you’re making travel plans and want to make an informed guess on when they’ll be in bloom, I have much more information in a post on when the best time is to visit DC to maximize your chances of seeing the cherry blossoms.
2017-18 Winter Outlook
Warmer conditions leading into the spring encourage an earlier bloom. Colder conditions encourage a later bloom. So we won’t really get much of an idea until we see how the temperatures play out in the coming months.
We still haven’t gotten into winter, but some weather experts have already issued their long-range winter forecasts.
The National Weather Service’s long-range outlook suggests the region might see a warmer-than-normal winter. The last two winters have been recording-setting in terms of warmth, although the prediction so far is that this coming winter might not measure up to quite such extremes.
How to Get Updates on the 2018 Cherry Blossoms
If you’d like to get a jump on the 2018 cherry blossoms, there are several ways to get updates. There’s not going to be much to report until we get into the beginning of 2018. The 2018 National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled to run from March 20 through April 15, but as always, precisely when the cherry blossoms will actually bloom is impossible to predict this far out.
- Facebook. Follow the Cherry Blossom Watch Facebook page
- Instagram. Follow the dedicated Instagram feed at @cherryblossomwatch/. The posts are usually shorter and less detailed, but they include photos and post more quickly.
- Email To the right of the page (or bottom, if you’re using a mobile device) you can find a signup form for the 2018 cherry blossom watch email newsletter.
- Browser Notifications. On desktop web browsers you can click on the red bell icon at the bottom right of the screen to sign up for push notifications. When new updates are posted you’ll get a notification automatically right in your browser. Chrome, Safari, and Firefox only, for now.
- RSS. RSS feed
2017 Cherry Blossom Bloom Recap
Washington DC’s cherry blossoms are done for 2017. The most famous ones, the Yoshino variety around the Tidal Basin, reached peak bloom on March 25. Peak bloom is the day on which 70 percent of the blossoms are fully blooming. Because freezing temperatures wiped out about half of the cherry blossoms this year, the peak bloom calculation was handled a little differently and was based on the 70 percent of the half that survived the cold. The Kwanzan cherry blossoms were in full bloom around April 9-15.
The trees are now going through their fall cycle of leaves turning brown and orange and falling off. The vast majority of them won’t bloom until Spring 2018, although there’s a smattering of autumn-blooming cherry trees around the National Mall (particularly around the Washington Monument) that might offer some blooms if warm conditions are conducive to it (here’s more info on them).
It was a topsy-turvy lead-up to the bloom this year. A warmer than normal winter led into a very warm February. That brought the cherry blossoms to the verge of blooming around mid-March. It was even shaping up to be possibly the earliest on record.
Then an arctic blast hit. It has slowed the development to a crawl. It also caused widespread damage to many of the blossoms because it came right when many were just on the verge of blooming and at their most vulnerable.
The NPS judged that about half the blossoms survived. They reached peak bloom on March 25. Given the extent of the damage from the cold, it was a somewhat more subdued and reduced bloom this year than the kind of full-throated, dramatic bloom for which DC’s cherry blossoms are famous, but it still made for an impressive spectacle.
You can see photos of the 2017 bloom here.
The Backstory of the 2017 Bloom
The last official peak bloom prediction issued by the National Park Service was that would happen sometime between March 19 and 22. They revised their forecast on March 8 in light of colder than expected temperatures forecast for the coming week. Their initial prediction, issued on March 1, was for March 14 to 17.
On March 15, the NPS put out a press release that said, in part: “With temperatures moderating after the current cold snap, peak bloom of the Yoshino variety of cherry trees is still expected to occur within the projected March 19-22 window. However, the number of cherry trees that reach the blossom stage may be reduced as a result of the recent cold temperatures.”
The Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang only issued one peak bloom prediction this year. It was that it would fall sometime between March 15 and 19, 2017.
It’s not at all unusual for peak bloom 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 upon.
Are the cherry blossoms in Washington DC blooming?
No, they’re done for the year. You can find the most recent photos in the 2017 Cherry Blossom Watch updates.
What if I miss peak bloom?
You don’t have to be there on the precise peak bloom date to see the flowers. For at least two days before and at least two days after (and often longer in each direction) you can expect to see the trees in what one would consider full bloom. And there are flowers to see before and after that. Here are some photos of what I mean.
“Peak bloom” is a technical determination of when 70 percent of the flowers are determined to be out. And it’s a single day. But there are still beautiful flowers to see in the days before and after that. I have two posts that explain it in more detail and provide photos of what to expect in the days before and after the peak bloom date.
Maine Ave SW Parking Lot
It has reopened for normal use.
Traffic Restrictions on Ohio Drive
The temporary traffic restrictions have now been lifted and the pattern is back to normal.
How Accurate Are Peak Bloom Forecasts?
The NPS horticulturalists are the first to point out that they’re not really confident in their prediction until about 10 days out. There are so many variables that can come into play, especially since the prediction is based on long-range weather forecasts a month or more out.
It’s not at all unusual for their 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 upon.
Are There Any Other Forecasts?
The two to watch are the forecasts by the National Park Service and the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang. Typically, the National Park Service one is put out first, followed by the Capital Weather Gang’s about a week later.
From time to time there are some other ones issued that are worth noting. I keep this page updated with the latest forecasts.
I realize all this uncertainty isn’t much good if you’re trying to plan ahead with your own travel to Washington to visit the cherry blossoms, so I’ve put together some information to help you make your own educated guess.
If you’re planning a visit, I’ve put together some ideas on where to stay if you’re looking for hotels in Washington DC and how to get to the cherry blossoms once you’re here:
- When is the Best Time to See the Cherry Blossoms
- Where to Stay
- How to Get there
- What Peak Bloom and Why It (Sort of) Matters
Average Temperatures – Winter 2016-17
In trying to estimate when the cherry blossoms might bloom, what to look for, in particular, is how the winter shapes up–whether it’s colder or warmer than the average. Temperatures through the winter and into the spring play a very large part in determining the cherry blossoms’ schedule. Colder-than-average temperatures tend to push the bloom later, while warmer-than-average temperatures bring it forward. Temperatures in February and March tend to matter more than December and January.
The winter has been consistently warmer than average. With hardly any snow and very few cold snaps, it’s shaping up to be the third-warmest winter on record. And we closed out February with a long string of days in the 60s and 70s, which is well above normal for this time of year.
For an idea of how we’re tracking so far during the winter and heading into the spring, here’s how the monthly averages so far compare with historical normals1:
- March (up until peak bloom (March 25)): 0.7° below normal
- February: 8.7° above normal
- January: 6.1° above normal
- December: 2.1° above normal
- November: 3.0° above normal
For comparison, here are how much the monthly averages varied from the historical average for that month broken down by the months leading up to that year’s bloom.
|December||January||February||March||Peak Bloom Date|
ˤ = partial month, in progress
* = up until peak bloom
In the months leading up to the blooming of Washington DC’s cherry blossoms, the best we can say with confidence is that they will almost certainly flower sometime in the spring (yes, it’s technically possible that they won’t flower in an extreme weather situation, but it has never happened yet, and yes, there are some cherry blossoms that flower in the fall and winter) and that it will most likely happen sometime between mid-March and mid-April. When they flower, there are typically plenty of blossoms to see for at least 5 to 8 days, often longer.
In general, they tend to bloom sometime between mid-March and mid-April, with the dates more commonly clustered in the period of the last few days of March through the first few days of April. But there can be quite a bit of variation year to year. In 2016 they bloomed about a fortnight before the 2015 dates, and if you based your visit on the 2015 dates you would have missed the show.
The bloom schedule depends heavily on what kind of winter and early spring we have. A long, cold winter pushes the bloom date back. A warmer, shorter winter brings it forward. The temperatures in February and March tend to matter more than those of December and January.
I realize that uncertainty makes travel planning hard. So if you’d like much more information to base your own guesstimate on, I’ve put together some detailed information here.
If you’re inclined to put stock in long-range weather forecasts, here are some early long-range forecasts for this winter. The gist: “The ever-cautious National Weather Service . . . predicts equal chances of a cold or mild winter in the D.C. area. But some bolder forecasters in the private sector say there is a strong signal it will be severe.” Take it with a healthy dose of salt. A few weeks after that prediction, some local forecasters predicted a cold, snowy winter.
More recently, the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang has predicted that the coming winter will be colder than last year but with less snow. To put that in context, we had a lot of snow last year, thanks in part to a January blizzard, but overall temperatures were warmer than normal. That brought an early peak bloom of March 25. Their forecast for this year is for temperatures slightly above normal, with the possibility of a colder-than-usual January but a mild February and early end to winter. If that pans out, it suggests a peak bloom slightly earlier than the average. That said, long-range weather forecasts like these are notoriously difficult, and it’s quite possible things pan out differently.
2017 National Cherry Blossom Festival
Because of the early bloom, the opening of the 2017 National Cherry Blossom Festival® has been moved up to Wednesday, March 15 (originally March 20). It will still run through Sunday, April 16. In practical terms, this means that the Tidal Basin Welcome Area and ANA Performance Stage (both in the parking lot on the northeastern side of the Tidal Basin off Maine Ave SW) will open on March 15, earlier than originally planned.
The festival is run by the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Inc., a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization and features a number of events, exhibits, and performances related to the cherry blossoms and U.S.-Japanese relations. Among the events and activities are a parade, fireworks, concerts, and special exhibits that take their theme from the cherry blossoms. You can find more information at the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s official website.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is typically scheduled around the average peak bloom date. The hope is that the blossoms will come out at some point during the festival, but there’s no guarantee of that and it’s unlikely they’ll be out for the duration. In 2014 and 2015 the peak bloom fell right at the end of the festival. In 2016, with the early bloom, it fell right at the beginning of the festival. In recent years the festival has been extended to run across several weeks, which increases the chances that the peak bloom will fall within the festival dates.
The 2018 National Cherry Blossom Festival is schedule for March 20 through April 14. The parade is scheduled for April 14.
2017 Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run
The Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run is scheduled for the morning of April 2, 2017. The event brings with it significant road closures. The Tidal Basin remains open, but getting to it can be trickier than normal.