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Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 12, 2017

It's still cold, with much more to come. While most of the cherry blossoms are still hanging in there, more of them seem to be struggling.

It was another cold night. Several more of those to come. The Nor'easter that has us in its sights Monday night into Tuesday is expected to dump some snow and be followed by some even colder temperatures.

There's not much change since yesterday. As of this morning, most of the cherry blossoms are still hanging in there, but the cold looks to be taking more of a toll, and more of them look to be struggling.

If you're heading down today, you can get a sense of what to expect to see from the photos below. In terms of the amount of flowers out, there's been no real change since the cold arrived on Friday. They're still easy to find, but it's still only a relatively small number of flowers compared to full bloom.

The cold weather over the next several days is going to keep things moving at a crawl, and there's likely to be damage as a cumulative effect of several nights of freezing temperatures.

Travel vs Snowstorm

If you're planning on traveling in the region between late Monday through Tuesday and Wednesday, expect difficult travel conditions with likely delays and closures.

Could the the cold weather cause problems?

Cold weather is here now and is going to settle in for a while. We'll see some very cold temperatures and the increasing likelihood of some snow on Tuesday, possibly quite a bit.

So the natural question is: Could the cold snap affect the cherry blossoms?

Yes, it could. It's slowed things to a crawl, which is why the NPS pushed their peak bloom prediction dates back. It could also do some real damage.

As with frost, in the right (or wrong, if you will) mix of circumstances, freezing temperatures can damage the flowers and buds or even halt the bloom. It hasn't ever actually stopped Washington DC's cherry blossoms from blooming since records started being kept in the 1920s, but it remains a real possibility.

The effect that freezing temperatures and frost have on the cherry blossoms depends on what stage they're at. While they're wrapped tight, it's not much of an issue. As they get further along the stages before flowering they become more vulnerable to frost and freezing. And that's why it's potentially an issue now.

Most of the trees are currently in what's known as the peduncle elongation stage. The NPS judged that 70 percent of the Yoshinos had reached that stage as of March 8. And that just happens to be the stage at which they're most vulnerable to frost and freezing.

It's a two-pronged problem. Frost can cause damage. But even without the right mix of environment factors to actually create frost, cold temperatures below 28° can simply freeze them.

We're currently seeing overnight temperatures dipping below that, with several more nights of that to come. And that opens the possibility of perhaps killing off large numbers of the flowers (it doesn't hurt the trees themselves). One of the NPS experts has discussed the possibility using numbers ranging from 10 up to 90 percent of the blossoms being killed (not the trees themselves--they'll be fine). The Post has an interesting article on this topic that's worth reading.

Naturally, I'll be watching it closely and posting updates.

Early Bloomers

A handful of trees got a jumpstart on the others and have been blooming for a while. They're now moving past their prime even as the others still haven't full bloomed. Up close, their flowers are starting wither and look their age.

This is a small cluster of flowers that I've been photographing for the past several days. Aside from the different lighting conditions, you can see how they've been progressing.

March 7

March 8

March 9

March 10

March 11

March 12

New Cherry Blossom Watch Instagram Feed

I've started a new Cherry Blossom Watch Instagram account. I'll often be able to post short updates there more quickly than on the website, so if you want to get a jump on the very latest updates, be sure to check it out.

You can follow it at @cherryblossomwatch.

For Photographers

Sunrise tomorrow at the Tidal Basin is at 7:22AM and sunset at 7:13PM.

Several photographers planning to visit in coming weeks have asked about locations to catch the sunrise. I've started putting together some detailed guides on particular vantage points, beginning with this one for the Jefferson Memorial.

Daylight Savings

If you happen to be heading down to the Tidal Basin or National Mall for sunrise tomorrow, don't forget that daylight savings kicks in overnight. Clocks jump forward one hour, so 2AM becomes 3AM.

Common Questions

I'm coming on the weekend of March 25-26 (or April 1-2). Will I be able to see the cherry blossoms?

In a normal year, it's hard to predict with much confidence what's going to happen, when. This is not a normal year in several sences, and that's making it even harder than it is usually. There's an early bloom. There's an unusually broad spread of development stages. And the stretch of cold temperatures we're currently in is likely to damage the trees, with no way to know how many of the blossoms will make it through unscathed.

I've put together a photo timelines that gives a sense of what you might expect to see in the days after peak bloom. The photos are only a rough guide--this are playing out a bit differently this year so far.

Where can I find cherry blossoms blooming now?

It's still nothing like full bloom, but you don't have to look very hard to find some.

The largest cluster is around and in the FDR Memorial, but there are trees starting to flower all around the Tidal Basin.

Maine Ave SW Parking Lot

It's closed for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. They've started setting up temporary tents and facilities for the Welcome Center due to open on March 15.

Traffic Restrictions on Ohio Drive

The temporary traffic restrictions are now in place. Ohio Drive SW is now one-way, and the entrance to it from the Lincoln Memorial end is closed.

Photos from this Morning

If you head down today, this is the kind of thing you can expect to see.

This post was last modified on March 13, 2017 2:58 pm

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