Although we’re now deep into the 2016-17 winter, it’s still too early to know when Washington DC’s cherry blossoms will bloom in 2017.
So far, the winter temperatures have been pretty unremarkable. We’ve had some warmer-than-normal spells and a couple of very cold snaps, but overall averages are tracking just a couple of degrees above normal so far. But it’s not enough of a deviation to be a real indicator of when the peak bloom might come. As you can see in the table below, a warmer-than-normal December isn’t by itself a reliable indicator either way. And temperatures in February and March are more important than those in November and December.
Now that we’re getting closer, I’ll be posting updates more regularly.
I keep this page updated with the latest information on 2017 peak bloom forecasts as we get closer to the bloom.
For now, 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 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 we have. A long, cold winter pushes the bloom date back. A warmer, shorter winter brings in forward. The temperatures later in the winter tend to matter more than those earlier in the winter.
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.
Average Temperatures So Far / 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.
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:
- January (so far): 3.2° 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
Forecasts for 2017
No peak bloom forecasts for 2017 have been issued yet. We would expect the first ones to be issued around the beginning of March.
If you’re inclined to put stock in long-range weather forecasts this far out, 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.
Cherry Blossom Timelapse
While we’re waiting, here’s a timelapse I made this year of Yoshino cherry blossoms blooming.
Are DC’s Cherry Blossoms Blooming?
No, they’re done for 2016 and not yet blooming in 2017.
2016 Peak Bloom Forecasts
National Park Service
Late on March 15, the NPS revised its peak bloom forecast a second time. They now predict March 23-24 as the start of the peak bloom period. They cite the cooler than forecast temperatures we’ve had the week beginning March 14.
For background, these are the previous predictions the NPS has issued for the 2016 peak bloom:
- March 18 to 23: Revised forecast, issued March 8
- March 31 to April 3: Initial forecast, issued March 2
Washington Post Capital Weather Gang
They issued their first forecast on March 8. They predict that peak bloom will fall sometime during the period March 24 to 28, “centered around March 26.”
Both forecasts call for peak bloom to fall earlier than the April 4 historical average and significantly earlier than we’ve seen in the past few years.
How Accurate Are These 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 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.
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.
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.
How to Get Updates
I’ll keep this page updated with the latest peak bloom forecasts when they’re issued. There are three main ways you can keep up to date.
- Facebook. The Cherry Blossom Watch has a shiny new Facebook page you can follow to get the latest updates. You can find and like it here. When new posts are added on this site or there’s new information, the Facebook page will also be updated. This is probably the quickest way to get updates as they’re posted.
- Sign up for Email Updates. You can sign up for the Cherry Blossom Watch email newsletter. The sign-up form is on the right-hand side of this page (or bottom, if you’re using a mobile device). So as not to flood everyone’e inboxes, these aren’t sent with every update. Until we get closer to the bloom it’ll go out every few weeks or so. Closer to the bloom it’s about every week.
- Check back manually. You can, of course, just keep checking back. This page will keep up to date with peak bloom forecasts. You can find other updates on the front page.
Winter 2015-16 Predictions
In the last months of 2015 some of the local professional weather forecasters weighed in with their predictions for the region’s winter outlook.
The Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang predicted a warmer than usual winter with less snow. In short: “less brutal cold [compared to last year], more rain than snow.”
Topper Shutt from WUSA pretty much agreed.
NBC4’s Doug Kammerer disagreed, predicting “a warmer than average December. January should be slightly colder than average, and February will likely be significantly colder than average.” In addition, he and StormTeam4 predicted a blockbuster snowstorm to drive up snow accumulation totals.
Another expert, Judah Cohen, expected it to be cold and snowy.
2016 Peak Bloom Forecasts
In general, the blossoms tend to bloom sometime around the end of March into early April, but it varies year to year. They’re in full bloom for a relatively brief period of about 5 or 6 days or so, but there’s a window of about 10-12 days when you’ll see varying amounts of flowers. But just as with the overall schedule, the duration of the bloom varies year to year. I’ve put together a photo guide to the progression of the bloom that’s useful in knowing what to expect, when.
Around early March, there are groups that issue predictions on when the cherry blossom peak bloom will occur. The one to watch is the one issued by the National Park Service. They’ll be issuing their first forecast for 2016’s peak bloom at a press conference on March 2.
But even those forecasts have a fair bit of uncertainty built into them and can change as we get closer to the bloom. 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
2017 National Cherry Blossom Festival
The 2017 National Cherry Blossom Festival® will kick off on Monday, March 20, and run through Sunday, April 16.
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.
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.