Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 15, 2017

They're taking a beating now and damage is becoming more widespread. While there's still a good number soldiering on, it's not clear how many have…

They’re taking a beating now and damage is becoming more widespread. While there’s still a good number soldiering on, it’s not clear how many have sustained internal damage that’s not visible or how many will be able to ride out the next two cold nights.

Last night was cold, and it has taken a toll on the ones with exposed blossoms in the peduncle elongation and puffy white stages. As you can see in the photos below, many of them are now showing the tell-tale brown edges of damage. There might also be internal damage that’s not visible, something that the NPS is going to test for over the next few days.

But there are also a lot of them that are still putting up a fight. There are another two nights of expected hazardous temperatures to go. I’ll leave the percentages to the experts at the National Park Service, but so far there’s still a healthy number that are riding it out. If they manage to see off the next two nights, that suggests that at least some will bloom, but it’s impossible to say how many. It is safe to say, though, that this year is not going to be the dramatic show we often get.

NPS Press Release

This morning, the National Park Service conducted an inspection of the cherry trees and issued a press release of their findings so far. The short version is that last night’s temperatures were cold enough to cause real damage and they’re going to test some samples to see what non-visual damage might have been done.

A key 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 full text of their press release is here:

Washington – The National Park Service has completed an inspection of the Japanese flowering cherry trees around the Tidal Basin this morning in the wake of bitter overnight temperatures. Horticulturalists examining the trees found widespread damage in blossoms that had reached “puffy white,” the fifth of six stages in the bloom cycle. They have taken cuttings of branches containing blossoms at earlier stages and will force them open over the next 24-48 hours to determine what, if any, damage may have occurred in those blossoms.

Because the blossoms are so close to peak bloom and are exposed from the protection of the buds, they are particularly vulnerable to cold temperatures right now. Cherry blossoms start to sustain damage when temperatures hit 27 degrees; at 24 degrees, up to 90% of exposed blossoms can be affected. Temperatures hit the critical 27 degree mark just before midnight last night, and remained below that level as of 10 a.m this morning, including a five hour stretch at or below 24 degrees. Temperatures are forecast to be in the low 20s again for the next two nights.

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. Additional varieties of trees, including the Kwanzans (the second most abundant species around the Tidal Basin and in East Potomac Park) bloom later and their buds are protected from the current cold temperatures. The Kwanzan trees are projected to bloom April 10-13.

Where We’re At

Will the peak bloom be delayed further?

This cold spell was factored into the revised peak bloom prediction, so I wouldn’t currently expect the NPS experts to revise it again. The most recent prediction they’ve issued was on March 8 was for peak bloom to fall sometime between March 19 and 22.

The question at this point is not so much “when” but “if” (and if so, “how many”).

What can I expect to see this weekend?

The answer to this begins the same way: we don’t know how many will be able to ride out the cold temperatures of the next couple of nights. A saving grace might be that we’ve seen an unusually wide spread of development stages this year, with some trees well ahead of others. Because they’re more vulnerable in some stages than others, that gives the ones that were lagging behind a better chance of making it through.

For those that do ride it out–and there will likely be at least some–they’ll start kicking things up a notch again once they get some warmth.

Are the cold temperatures causing problems?

Yes. It has shut down the bloom progression and is causing damage. So far, the overnight temperatures haven’t been getting quite as low as some of the forecasts, and most of the blossoms have been holding up remarkably well. But there’s still more wintry weather to come and no way to know what effect it’s going to have when it’s all said and done.

Check in for the daily updates to get the latest photos of how they’re doing.

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.


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 18 (rescheduled again from the rescheduled 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 today, this is the kind of thing you can expect to see. And if you do head down today, be warned that the icy walkway is extremely hazardous.

The icy walkway.

Marine One taking President Trump to Joint Base Andrews for a flight to Nashville. He’s in the lead helicopter at far right. The other two are escorts/decoys.

Early Bloomers

A handful of trees got a jumpstart on the others and have been blooming for a while. They’re pretty much done now, although some withered petals remain on the trees.

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

March 14

March 15

Last updated March 15, 2017

View Comments

  • I've been wondering about those blossoms! Thank you for your updates. They are very thorough! The many photos are a very nice touch :)

    • You're welcome. My aim with them is to give a sense of what you might expect to see if you were down at the Tidal Basin today.

  • I am visiting all the way from China this weekend. Thank you for keeping us updated on the situation. My heart broke when I saw the photos of the damaged cherry blossom. This is my favorite flower! I hope I can still see them during the week of my visit.

    • You should be able to see some, although it's not going to be as dramatic as a normal year. I'll be posting another update shortly with some new photos from this morning.