Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 19, 2017

The cherry blossoms are gearing up for another attempt at the bloom. There are flowers starting to come out, but they're scattered for now.

The survivors from the cold are gearing up for another attempt at the bloom.

Some areas had some wet snow this morning, but it’s just a little warmer down by the Tidal Basin so it was just rain. It should clear out before much longer to be a little less dreary.

Normally on a weekend close to the bloom the area would be swamped with people well before sunrise. But it’s basically deserted early this morning. Heavy clouds and rain are blocking the sunrise that’s currently precisely in the east and would otherwise be lining up beautifully along the monuments of the National Mall and across the Tidal Basin at the Jefferson Memorial. The rain is obviously not ideal. And the bloom this year has been stuttering, to say the least.

If you do plan to go down to the Tidal Basin later today, you can get a sense of what you can expect to see from the photos below (minus the rain, hopefully, which should clear out later this morning). The snow and ice have melted, so it’s not much less treacherous to walk around–you will have to dodge some puddles, though.

You’ll come across badly damaged blossoms shriveled on the branches. But you’ll also come across quite a lot of flowers starting to come out. Many of the survivors of the cold–perhaps even most–now have at least some flowers starting to show. They’re not yet blooming fully–they still have some work to do–but you can find some flowers easily. They don’t yet look all that impressive from a distance–more flowers need to come out for that–but you can find plenty up close.

Several people have been asking where around the Tidal Basin is the best spot to find them. Having walked the entire circuit this morning, there’s not really one particular spot that stands out. The surviving ones are interspersed with the damaged ones. So pretty much anywhere around the Tidal Basin is as good as any for finding some flowers. There really aren’t any fully blooming trees at the moment–it’s more like scattered flowers on scattered trees.

So when are they going to bloom?

You can find flowers now, but there’ll be more and more coming out over the next several days.

On Friday afternoon, the National Park Service said that they judged that about 50 percent of the cherry blossoms survived the cold and that they expected those to bloom late next week. They didn’t mention specific dates, but it suggests that their current thinking is in the March 22-24 range. It’s not a formal revision of the peak bloom prediction, as such; it’s a recalibration based on the first half of the bloom being wiped out.

Many of the trees are only a warm day or two away from popping, but there’s still some that are further behind. And the weather forecast is calling for warmer temperatures than we’ve had but not really in the range that really get things cooking along.

Walking Tours

If you’re interested in a walking tour, I recommend starting with the free ones offered by the National Park Service. You’ll see signs like these at the FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, MLK Memorial, and the Welcome Area (the parking lot with the tents near the paddle boats). They meet at 11am, 1pm, 3pm, and 5pm. You don’t need to make reservations–just go stand by the sign at those times.

They also offer a night-time version on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings between 8 and 10. BYO flashlight.

If you want something self-guided, I’ve put together a quick guide to the monuments you’ll come across as you wander around the Tidal Basin and the nearby area.

The Story So Far

If you’re just tuning in, here’s a quick recap of where we’re at.

It has been a topsy-turvy lead-up to the bloom this year. A warmer than normal winter led into a very warm February. That brought the cherry blossoms to the verge of blooming around mid-March. It was even shaping up to be possibly the earliest on record.

Then an arctic blast hit (well, actually two, but the one over the past week has been the most significant for the cherry blossoms–the saucer magnolias got wiped out in the first one). It slowed the development to a crawl. It also caused widespread damage to many of the blossoms because it came right when many were just on the verge of blooming and at their most vulnerable. A snow and ice storm turned them into cherry blossom popsicles. But we’re through that now, and temperatures are moderating.

The NPS says that about half of the cherry blossoms survived the cold and that they expect those to be fully blooming late next week (roughly March 22-24 or so). Because of the damage caused by a string of nights with cold, freezing temperatures, it will be a more subdued and reduced bloom this year than the kind of full-throated, dramatic bloom for which DC’s cherry blossoms are famous.

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. There are currently tents, a stage, food tents, and activity areas in there.

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

These should give you an idea of how they’re doing as of this morning.

The structure at the left of the frame is the Japanes Lantern.

The lit-up but at right is the Eleanor Roosevelt section of FDR Memorial.

Last updated March 24, 2017

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    • If you're on public transport or taxi, ask for Tidal Basin, MLK Memorial, FDR Memorial, or Jefferson Memorial. If you're putting it in your GPS, use the landmarks option and search for Jefferson Memorial or street address: 1964 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024 (that's the MLK Memorial). A map and more details here.

  • Hi, and thanks for "keeping watch!" We moved to Delaware from NoVA after retirement, but still love the cherry blossoms! We will try to catch them as they finally reach peak after their near-disastrous start.

    Also, I am a painter, and wondered if I could have our permission to use the lead photo on this page for a small painting, since you have your "logo" printed on it. I would note the source if you so desire.

    • Hi Curt, Yes, you're welcome to use it for that purpose, and I appreciate you checking. cheers, David.

  • I will be there Saturday as well! Looking forward to seeing some blooming at peak :) Again, Thanks for always keeping us on the loop!