In light of the cool temperatures we’ve been seeing lately and are expected to keep seeing, both the National Park Service and the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang have pushed back their peak bloom predictions.
The current peak bloom forecasts for DC’s cherry blossoms are:
National Park Service: March 27 – 31
Washington Post: March 30 – April 3
Those dates would put the bloom squarely in the range of the historical average.
Here are some photos of how the trees were looking March 19. You can find more photos of how the trees are looking here.
After a warm February, March has been cooler than normal. So while the cherry blossoms got off to an early start, their progress has been slowed considerably in the cooler temperatures.
The NPS determined that 70 percent of the buds reached the “florets visible” stage on March 15. That’s the second of the five development stages the NPS tracks before actually the flowers are actually blooming. Due to a sustained period of cool temperatures, the buds had stayed in the “green buds” stage longer than usual.
They reached the “green buds” stage on February 25. That’s only a day after last year (which was a very fast progression) and well ahead of the average. The green buds is the first of several stages tracked in the development of the blossoms, so while it’s still early in the process, they were off to an earlier-than-average start but then got stuck in that stage longer than expected during the period of cool temperatures.
Cherry Blossom Peak Bloom Forecasts Issued for 2018: Details
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.
National Park Service. At a press conference on March 1, the National Park Service issued their first peak bloom prediction for the 2018 season. They predicted that peak bloom would fall sometime between March 17 to 20. On March 12, they revised that prediction to March 27 to 31.
Washington Post Capital Weather Gang. On February 27, the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang posted their first peak bloom prediction of March 23 to 27, “centered on March 25.” Late on March 12, they posted a revised prediction of March 30 to April 3.
Common Questions About the Cherry Blossom Peak Bloom Forecasts
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.
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.
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 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 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. Typically, the National Park Service one is put out first–usually around the beginning of March–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.
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 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. 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.
Average Temperatures | Winter 2017-18
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 December and January.
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: 2.4° below normal (so far)
- February: 6.3° above normal
- January: 0.3° below normal
- December: 0.5° below normal
- November: 0.2° 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
Where to Stay
If you’re coming from out of town, I’ve put together some suggestions on where to stay.
2018 National Cherry Blossom Festival
The 2018 National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled for March 20 through April 14. The parade is scheduled for April 14.
2018 Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run
The 2018 Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run is scheduled for the morning of April 8. 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.
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.
How to Get Updates on the 2018 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 details and include more current photos than the other options. 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.
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. 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. This is sent out as a digest of the latest updates every week or so when new updates have been posted.
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
Cherry Blossom Visitor Guides
Planning on visiting DC to see the cherry blossoms? The uncertainty with predicting when the bloom will take place certainly makes things hard, but I've put together some information to help you make an educated guess to maximize your chances.
And if you're coming into town for the events of the cherry blossom festival or just for the flowers, I've also put together some ideas on where to stay and how to get to the cherry blossoms once you're here.
Washington DC Visitor Guides
If you're coming in from out of town, here are some useful travel guidebooks that can help you make the most of your visit. Because as stunning as the cherry blossoms are, there's an awful lot more to do and see in DC.
These are some of the most popular ones. Many of these are available as both traditional books and e-books that you can read on your phone or tablet.
- Lonely Planet
- Publisher: Lonely Planet
- Stephan Van Dam, Illustrator, Editor
- Publisher: VanDam, Inc
- Elise Hartman Ford
- Publisher: FrommerMedia
- DK Travel
- Publisher: DK Eyewitness Travel
- Lonely Planet, Regis St Louis, Karla Zimmerman
- Lonely Planet
And here are some interesting options for less traditional guidesbooks if you'd like an emphasis on exploring DC on foot or diving into some of the region's very rich history.
- NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
- Barbara Noe Kennedy
Books on DC's Cherry Blossoms
If you're looking for books specifically on DC's cherry blossoms for yourself or as a gift for someone, these two are my favorites.
- Ann McClellan
- Publisher: National Geographic