Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 21, 2017

The cherry blossoms are finally coming out to play, and it looks like it's shaping up to look better than the numbers suggest.

There are two pieces of good news today and one not so good.

The first good news is that the cherry blossoms are finally (!) coming out to play. For real this time. After the initial false start about 10 days ago, more flowers came out yesterday and more will come out today with the expected warmer temperatures.

It’s now very easy to find blossoms out all the way around the Tidal Basin and you can clearly see more color from a distance. It’s not yet full bloom, and with the moderate temperatures it’s more of a slow burn process right now, but they should start coming into their prime as things warm up Thursday and get better over the next few days. So it should be good timing for the weekend.

The second piece of good news is that the bloom will probably look more impressive than the numbers suggest. The NPS said that about 50 percent the cherry blossoms survived, but now that we can see the flowers coming out it looks like that is going to look much better than that sounds.

Two things are going on. There are certainly whole trees where the cold damaged practically all of the blossoms on that tree, and there’s no question that the cold did significant damage–it’s easy to find the evidence of it. But most of them sustained only partial damage. Even on the same tree, not every bud and blossom is at exactly the same stage, and that saved many. Most of them are still blooming, with flowers coming out alongside the damaged ones. And as the damaged ones shrivel up and fall off they’re becoming much less noticeable.

The other thing that’s happening is that even some of the individual blossoms that were damaged are still blooming. If you look very closely at some you can see that they have petals that are missing or have parts that are scorched brown but the rest of the flower looks fine. From a normal viewing distance, it just looks like a healthy flower, and you have to look very closely to notice it. You can see some examples in the photos below. The upshot is that even many of the damaged blossoms are flowering.

The upshot is that while yes, there is obvious damage that will impact the spectacle of the bloom, the visual impact might not be as dramatic as you might expect when you hear that half of the blossoms were wiped out.

Now, the not-so-good news. Because someone, somewhere evidently decided that this shall be The Year that the Cherry Blossoms Will Not Catch a Break, there’s another cold snap on the way right when the blossoms are again in their vulnerable stages. It’ll be brief this time, just Wednesday into Thursday, but there’s the possibility of more damage from a hard freeze early Thursday morning. I’m optimistic that they’ll make it through just fine–thanks to the water of the Tidal Basin, the temperatures around it tend to stay a shade warmer, and weather forecasts don’t always pan out exactly as expected, of course–but there is a chance of yet more damage. At this point, I’d file this under potential problems rather than definite problems, but it’s something to watch.

So when are they going to bloom?

They’re starting to bloom properly now, and it’s very easy to find blossoms out all the way around the Tidal Basin. It’s not full bloom yet, but they should start coming into their prime as things warm up Thursday and get better over the next few days. So it should be good timing for the weekend.

As we get into next week, things get a bit iffier, although there’s still the occasional tree that’s well behind the others, so it’s likely to be a bit drawn out and possible to see at least some flowers well into next week.

You can get a sense of the progression after the peak bloom from this photo timeline.

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. Most of the survivors look as though they’ll be in their prime sometime around March 23-26.

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.

It has been very quiet so far down at the Tidal Basin in the early mornings. This is Ohio Drive, which would normally be much more crowded at this point.

An example of one of the ones that’s way behind the others.

While there are one or two varieties of low flowers that have come out, for the most part the flowers in the Floral Library still have a ways to go.

Last updated March 21, 2017