Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 20, 2017

It's a beautiful morning to kick off spring, and more cherry blossoms are starting to come out as they head toward fully blooming later this week.

You couldn’t as for a nicer morning to kick off spring. It’s sunny, cool, and still.

Now that the temperatures have moderated, more flowers are coming out. It’s even easier to find some out today than it was yesterday, and we’ll continue to see that pattern for the next several days as the ones that survived the cold head towards a second attempt at a full bloom later this week. So if you head down to the Tidal Basin today you’ll find that they’re not yet at full bloom but that you can easily find flowers out. And from a distance they’re starting to get a little more color.

Several people have been asking where around the Tidal Basin is the best spot to find them. 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, but they’re getting closer.

So when are they going to bloom?

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 this 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. You can find flowers now, but there’ll be more and more coming out over the next several days, and with moderate temperatures expected we’re likely to see a slow burn blooming process until it warms up on the weekend.

Cold Temperatures … Again

Current forecasts suggest that Wednesday night could get very cold, below the point at which damage can be done to the cherry blossoms. Weather forecasts change, of course, but it’s something to keep an eye on. There are likely to be many of the blossoms in a vulnerable stage right before blooming, and, as we’ve learned the hard way recently, it’s entirely possible that they could be damaged.

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 this 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 photos should give you an idea of the type of progress you can expect to see if you head down to the Tidal Basin today.

Last updated March 20, 2017

View Comments

  • Would love to come this weekend (25th) but worried the cold on Wednesday will cause even more damage. Keeping a close eye on your updates!

    • After the last couple of weeks there's no denying it's possible, but I'm optimistic about their chances. I've just posted a new update that touches on this and includes new photos from this morning.

  • Ditto on the usefulness of these updates. Extremely informative for us here in Michigan. The plan was to make the trip this year to view the gorgeous trees. Its unfortunate that did not work out due to the weather causing such damage:(. Well hopefully there is next year. Looking forward to your updates then!! Thank you again for all your hard work!

    • I've been very surprised at how quiet it has been so far this year, and parking along Ohio Drive hasn't even been remotely difficult. This morning there were only a half dozen or so cars there when I arrived before sunrise, several of which were probably the regular commuter parking. In general, if you're there early on a weekday you can usually find a spot along Ohio Drive. If those are full, there are three smallish parking lots under the 14th Street Bridge (as you go past the Jefferson Memorial, turn left at the T-intersection next to the George Mason Memorial). You also often find spots freeing up shortly after sunrise as photographers and others who came specifically for the sunrise head off to work. Competition can get a bit more serious later in the morning, especially if the tour buses are rolling in.

      On weekends during the bloom all bets are off, but it's usually not too bad on weekdays.

      I have more details here.

  • We are arriving in DC on Wednesday, March 29th. Do you expect that we'll still be able to see cherry blossoms?

    • It's possible there might still be some late stragglers, but most of them will almost certainly be done. Here's a photo timeline that gives some idea of what to expect in the days after the bloom. Some years it can be more drawn out than others, and you might luck out and catch a few.

  • Will the trees still be in bloom for the race next weekend (April 2nd) or will it be over by then?

    • The main ones will like be done by then. There's another variety that blooms a bit later--the Kwanzan cherry blossoms--and you might catch some early ones of those. More on them here.

      • Thank you. You guys are awesome! This is my first Cherry Blossom 10 mile race, but if the cherry blossoms are not out, you can bet I will be coming back until I catch a good bloom.

        • Good luck! I've run it several times but won't be this year, unfortunately. It's a fun and scenic race. I have a few photos here of what you can expect. The two-way crush over Memorial Bridge is something to see. And I still get a kick out of the "Worst Parade Ever" sign--it's just so perfectly DC.