Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 13, 2017

Not much change since yesterday. Another cold night. Some of the blossoms are clearly struggling and succumbing to the freezing temperatures, but overall I'm impressed with how well most of them seem to be holding up so far.

There’s not much new since yesterday. It was very cold again last night. Their development process is at a standstill. In terms of flowers out, it looks to be pretty much the same as it was on Friday when the cold weather arrived.

While some of the blossoms look to be struggling, I’m impressed with how well most of them seem to be holding up. It’s helping that there’s such a broad spread of stages–they blossoms are more vulnerable to the cold in some stages than others, and the ones that were at earlier stages seem to be holding up just fine.

But what we’ve seen so far is really just getting started. We’re on the southern end of the big snowstorm that’s about to slam into the northeast tonight and tomorrow, and it looks like we’ll get a combination of snow, sleet, and rain. But more importantly, after the snowstorm clears out it looks like we’ll have a couple of nights of the coldest temperatures yet.

Naturally, there are lots of questions about whether there’s going to be much to see after we see of the cold stretch. It looks like it’ll be about another week or so yet before we see some warmth. And unfortunately it’s impossible to say. This is not the normal weather we typically see at this stage of the blooming process, so it’s not following the usual pattern. We simply don’t know how much damage the freezing temperatures are going to do when it’s all said and done. I fully expect there to be some flowers out, but the bloom this year might not be as dramatic as it can be.

The potential for damage aside, the cold temperatures we’re seeing now and are expected for the next week are so are keeping things in a holding pattern. So I don’t expect many more flowers to come out before the weekend. They’ll then need at least a couple of warm days to really start opening up. Based on current forecasts, at least, we probably won’t see those kinds of temperatures until around the middle of next week.

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 best place to find a lot of trees with some flowers is around the FDR Memorial.

Travel vs Storm

If you’re planning on traveling in the region Monday night through much of Tuesday, expect difficult travel conditions with likely delays and closures. It’s not clear how much snow/sleet we’ll get inside the Beltway, but even if we don’t end up with much snow here, there’s likely to be spillover travel effects from harder hit areas to our north.

Could the cold temperatures present a problem?

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 Monday night into Tuesday, possibly quite a bit.

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

Yes. It’s going to slow things down, 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.

I’ll of course be watching it closely and posting updates.

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 7:20AM and sunset at 7:14PM.

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.

Common Questions

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. To get to it you have to enter via Maine Ave SW and go around the Jefferson Memorial.

Photos from this Morning

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

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

March 13

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.

Last updated March 14, 2017

View Comments

    • They haven't announced any revision to those dates, so they're the latest we have. There's not a lot of warm weather in the current forecast, so they're probably going to be going in slow motion until they get a couple of warm days.

  • This Saturday can my family go to the see cherry blossom yet ? Can you tell me , I 'm come from Canada. Thanks

    • There are some trees with flowers on them, but we're currently in the middle of a stretch with cold temperatures that is slowing things down and doing some damage. Right now, it's not clear how much damage will be done--it might be not much or a lot. The update from today shows how they're looking this morning.

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