It's still too early to tell when Washington DC's cherry blossoms will bloom in 2019. It's generally sometime in the period around the end of March through early April, but precisely when depends largely on the weather (particularly temperatures) in the months leading up to that.
Despite those spells of decidedly wintry weather, the average temperature over the whole of January ended up slightly above normal. A lot can still change, though, so it's still not a reliable indicator of what we can expect with the bloom timing. More than once in recent years we've seen late cold snaps push an expected early bloom back by quite a lot or warm blasts bring out the flowers quickly.
Looking ahead into the first couple of weeks of February, the National Weather Service is expecting warmer-than-normal temperatures, followed by another stretch of cooler-than-normal temperatures. The see-sawing temperatures don't make it any easier to form a good idea of when the cherry blossoms might bloom. But over the next 3 to 4 weeks, things will hopefully start to become clearer. Expect some initial peak bloom forecasts to be issued around the beginning of March.
Here's how temperatures are tracking so far compared to normal historical averages:
- February: +3.4 (as of February 15)
- January: +1.2°
- December: +3.8°
- November: -3.1°
Here is the temperature tracking on a more granular level, with the daily tracking since the beginning of December. The red line represents the historical average. The blue tracks the average daily temperatures this winter.
There's some more information further down the page on how it compares with the tracking in recent years.
How to Get Updates on the 2019 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. (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. To the right of the page (or bottom, if you're using a mobile device) you can find a signup form for the 2019 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. Please note that the email lists do not carry over year to year, so even if you signed up in 2018 you'll still need to sign up again for the 2019 list.
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 2019
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.
Neither group has issued a prediction yet. They typically do so around early March.
DC's Cherry Blossoms in 2018
They reached peak bloom on April 5.
After a warm February, March was cooler than normal and actually ended up being colder than February. So while the cherry blossoms got off to an early start, their progress slowed considerably in the cooler temperatures.
You can find the updates and photos from the 2018 bloom here.
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. 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.
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.
Average Temperatures for Winter 2018-19
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.
For reference, 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|
|2018-19||+3.8||+1.2||+3.4 (as of Feb 15)|
ˤ = partial month, in progress
* = up until peak bloom
Where to Stay for Cherry Blossom DC 2019
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.
2019 National Cherry Blossom Festival
The 2019 National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled for March 20 through April 13. The parade is scheduled for April 13.
2019 Cherry Blossom Ten Miler
The 2019 Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run is scheduled for the morning of April 7. 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.
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.
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.
Last updated February 15, 2019 6:00 am