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.
On average, DC’s cherry blossoms bloom around the last week of March into the first week or April. But it can also be a little before or after that period.
Warmer temperatures in the late winter into early spring bring the blossoms out earlier. Cooler temperatures push them later. The flowers generally last a week or two, but again, just how long they stay around depends on the weather.
The season’s first peak bloom forecasts typically come out around the beginning of March. That, of course, makes it hard to plan travel. If you’d like to make an educated guess on when to aim for, I have much more information in a separate post on the best time to see DC’s cherry blossoms.
Average Temperatures for Winter 2019-20
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 the most important 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 much more than those of December and January.
The start of the 2019-20 winter has been warmer than normal, especially the first half of January. We’ve missed most of the big winter storms that have passed to the north. But some forecasts point to colder weather arriving later in January.
Here’s how we’re tracking so far relative to previous years:
|December||January||February||March||Peak Bloom Date|
ˤ = partial month, in progress
* = up until peak bloom
And here’s how that looks in graph form. The red line represents the historical average. The blue line represents the corresponding daily averages for this winter. Data is taken from the National Weather Service’s recordings from National Airport, which is just across the Potomac from the Tidal Basin.
Winter 2019-2020 Long-Range Outlook
These seasonal forecasts from some of the area’s weather experts are worth knowing about if you’re trying to plan a visit well in advance. It’s still a long way out, but some of these winter outlooks point to a cold February-March period. That’s the period that has the most impact on the timing of the bloom. If this aspect of these predictions pan out, it would suggest a bloom on the later side. But long-range weather forecasts can be hit or miss, so take these with a grain of salt.
The National Weather Service predicts above-normal temperatures overall with volatile short-term swings.
Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang predicts the winter starting with temperatures averaging slightly higher than average but getting cooler as the winter goes on. Specifically, they predict that February will see around average temperatures and that March will dip below average. The key part that’s most relevant to trying to predict when the cherry blossoms will bloom relates to the late winter and early spring period–that is, the temperatures in February into March. Consistently cold temperatures push the bloom later.
Doug Kammerer of NBC4 predicts a winter starting off a bit warmer than normal, but getting significantly colder in the back half, through February and March. He also expects the winter to be snowier than normal.
Fox 5 DC predicts slightly above-normal snowfall with temperatures averaging out around normal overall but with some intense cold snaps coming waves rather than sustained low temperatures. They expect December to be the warmest month and January the coldest, which wouldn’t be especially surprising.
There are a number of other winter forecasts. Jason Samenow of the **Washington Post* has done a nice roundup of them here. There’s no clear consensus among them, but overall they suggest temperatures around normal.
How Long Do the Flowers Stay Out? What if I Miss Peak Bloom?
The day the cherry blossoms reach peak bloom is not, of course, the only day you can see the flowers. At a 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.
How long they’re out depends on 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. So there might be a period of two weeks or more when the flowers are looking beautiful. In less-than-ideal conditions (wet, windy, hot, stormy), the flowers disappear more quickly, perhaps a week or less. 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.
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.
If you’re too early for the main cherry blossoms, your timing might be good for saucer magnolias (also called tulip magnolias). There’s a particularly beautiful collection of them in the garden behind the Smithsonian Castle, but there are plenty of others scattered around the city, including a small grove at the George Mason Memorial next to the Tidal Basin.
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, and you can find them at a number of places around the National Mall as well as further afield.
How to Get Updates on the 2020 Cherry Blossoms
There are several ways to keep up to date with Cherry Blossom Watch updates.
CherryBlossomWatch.com This website is Cherry Blossom Watch HQ. New updates post here first. They're also more detailed and include more current photos than the other options below. So be sure to bookmark and check back often. If you'd like to receive instant automatic notifications directly from the website when new updates are posted, take a look at the browser notification option below.
Instagram. Follow the dedicated Instagram feed at @cherryblossomwatch. The posts are usually shorter and less detailed, but they include freshly taken photos and post more quickly. (And, if you're interested, you can also follow my main travel photography account at @havecamerawilltraveldc.)
Facebook. Follow the Cherry Blossom Watch Facebook page. This is a good way to know when new updates are posted on the website, but because of the way Facebook's newsfeed algorithm works, there's no guarantee that every update will show up in your feed.
Email Newsletter. This is not up and running for 2020 yet. Stay tuned!
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. Works in Chrome, Safari, and Firefox only, for now.
RSS. RSS feed
DC Cherry Blossom Peak Bloom Forecasts Issued for 2020
No cherry blossom peak bloom forecasts have been issued for 2020 yet. They typically come out around the end of February into early March.
The two peak bloom predictions to watch are the ones from the National Park Service and the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang. From time to time, others of note are issued and I’ll include them here.
DC’s Cherry Blossoms in 2019
They reached peak bloom on April 1, 2019.
After a few years of more dramatic spring weather, this year was calm and stable. It brought the blossoms out right around the historical average and made for quite a long prime viewing period with calm and sunny days.
You can find the updates and photos from the 2019 bloom here.
Common Questions About the Cherry Blossom Peak Bloom Forecasts
Here are some answers to some of the common questions I get asked.
Do the Peak Bloom Predictions Change?
Yes. It’s common for them to be revised as we get closer to the bloom. Which is why it’s worth checking back to this page for the current forecasts or signing up to get updates using one of the methods described below.
How are the Peak Bloom Predictions Made?
There are three parts that go into the mix for making the NPS peak bloom predictions. The first is a mathematical model that basically assigns heat points for temperatures. Once the trees wake up from their winter dormancy, there are thresholds for a certain number of heat points to bring them to bloom.
The second is actually looking at the trees to see how they’re developing. Sometimes the mathematical model doesn’t match what they’re actually seeing on the trees, as happened in 2018 when the model predicted a much earlier bloom than ended up happening because the buds got stuck in the green bud stage for much longer than expected.
The third part, and the most unstable element of the whole thing, consists of weather forecasts looking weeks ahead. We all know only too well just how unreliable forecasts that far ahead can be, and that’s the main reason that the peak bloom predictions can change quite a lot and why the NPS horticulturalists aren’t really comfortable with their predictions until about 10 days out.
What Does “Peak Bloom” Mean and Why Is It a Date Range?
The peak bloom date is the day on which the NPS horticulturalists judge that 70 percent of the Yoshino blossoms are out. There are a number of different varieties of cherry trees around and near the Tidal Basin, but the Yoshino variety is by far the most numerous and famous.
“Peak Bloom” is 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 one day 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.
I have more detail in a separate post explaining the ins and outs of peak bloom.
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. And nature has a way of being unpredictable sometimes, as the 2017 bloom proved. 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.
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 the peak bloom predictions 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 and it’s quite common for the forecasts to change. 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 Peak Bloom Forecasts?
The two to watch are the forecasts by the National Park Service and the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang. Both typically issue their first forecasts for the season around the end of February or beginning of March.
From time to time there are some other forecasts issued that are worth noting, and I try to include them when possible.
What Month is Cherry Blossom Season in Washington DC?
The cherry blossoms in Washington DC usually bloom around the end of March into early April.
What Kind of Cherry Blossom Trees are in Washington DC?
There are about a dozen different kinds of cherry trees among the thousands around and near the Tidal Basin. The most famous and most numerous are Yoshino cherry trees.
Where Can I See the Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC?
While there are cherry trees scattered throughout the region, by far the most famous ones are centered around the Tidal Basin and area near the National Mall. These are the ones you’ve probably seen in photos with famous monuments like the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument.
Where to Stay for Cherry Blossom DC 2020
In general, anywhere you’d stay to visit the National Mall area will work well for the cherry blossoms. The most famous area for the cherry blossoms is the Tidal Basin, which is immediately adjacent to the main spine of the National Mall.
If you’re coming from out of town, I’ve put together some suggestions on where to stay for DC’s cherry blossoms.
2020 National Cherry Blossom Festival
The 2020 National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled for March 20 through April 12. The parade is scheduled for April 4 and Petalpalooza (with fireworks) for April 11.
2020 Cherry Blossom Ten Miler
The 2020 Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run is scheduled for the morning of April 5. The event brings with it significant road closures for the morning of the race. The Tidal Basin remains open during the race, but getting to it can be trickier than normal.
You can find more information on how the race affects visiting the cherry blossoms here.
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.