Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 24, 2017

They're looking good now and will look better and better each day through at least the weekend.

They’re looking good now, with many flowers out, and they’re going to start to look even better once this afternoon’s warmth rolls in and stays through the weekend. With temperatures in the 60s and mid-70s, they’re going to get a big caffeine jolt over the next few days. The NPS expects them to reach peak bloom Saturday or Sunday.

So it’s shaping up beautifully for the weekend. The flowers will be out, it’ll be nice warm spring weather, and big crowds will turn up to enjoy it.

Wait, weren’t they wiped out by the snowstorm?

Despite the photos of cherry blossom popsicles, it wasn’t so much the snowstorm as a couple of nights with freezing temperatures right around that time. Hard freezes wiped out the blossoms that were in the last stage before actually blooming. That was about 50 percent of the total.

But it turns out that that sounds worse than it looks, and they’ve bounced back remarkably well. There’s no question that the cold caused damage, and it’s very easy to find the after effects, especially up close.

But they look much better than you might expect when you hear that half of them were wiped out. The fresh blossoms are to some extent masking the damage, and even some of the damaged blossoms are flowering. So my guess is that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good they look. The photos below were all taken this morning and give a good sense of where they’re at now. They’ll be looking even better over the next few days.

So even if it’s probably not going to be a banner year for the cherry blossoms this year and they might not be bursting at the seams quite as much as usual, it’s still shaping up to be a beautiful show.

For First-Time Visitors

If you’re visiting for the first time, you’re in for a treat! The bloom is a stunning spectacle.

I’ve put together some posts that might help with the logistics.

I have information on where to find the cherry blossoms and how to get to them. On the weekend, almost any other mode of transport will be a better option than driving, but if you are going to drive I’ve put together some ideas for parking options. And here’s some advice for getting around town this weekend from the Washington Post.

And as you wander around the Tidal Basin you’ll come across several monuments and landmarks. Here’s a quick guide to them.

And I’ve also put together some ideas if you’re bringing young kids to the cherry blossoms because there are some logistical and safety considerations to factor in.

Finally, please don’t pick the cherry blossoms or climb on the trees. Some of the old, gnarled ones (ie. the easiest to climb) are from the original planting over a century ago and are easily damaged. So as tempting as that selfie might be, please consider not climbing on the trees to get it.

For Photographers

Sunrise tomorrow is at 7:03AM and sunset at 7:25PM. Because it’s still close to the equinox, the sunrise and sunsets are lining up wonderfully with the monuments on the National Mall, which runs directly East-West. If the clouds would just clear out….

And if you’ve been meaning to try out some near gear, BorrowLenses is currently running a 15% off promotion. If you’ve never used them or ones similar, they have a huge range of cameras, lenses, and other gear that you can rent. It’s a great way to try out gear before buying or to use something different. An example is a macro lens, which comes in very handy for cherry blossom photos.

If you want to see what they have available (they’re usually very good about quick shipping), here’s the link:

Using Drones

It’s also worth a reminder, especially for visitors, that the Tidal Basin is a no drone zone. That also applies to anywhere within a 30-mile radius, including, obviously, the monuments around the National Mall area. So as stunning as the photos or video from a drone could be, just don’t.

It’s highly protected airspace and the rules are vigorously enforced. Here are more details for why it’s both dangerous and inadvisable.

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.

So When Are They Going to Bloom?

Many are fully blooming now. The rest need some more warmth to bring them up to speed. Things are looking very good for the coming weekend.

If you do miss the main ones (Yoshinos), there’s another variety that blooms around 2 to 3 weeks, the Kwanzan cherry blossoms. There are fewer of them, but they’re very pretty.

How Long Do the Cherry Blossoms Hang Around?

How long the cherry blossoms stick around is about as predictable as everything else about them.

Sometimes they can be out for a week or even, in ideal conditions, two. Sometimes they can be mostly gone a few days after the peak bloom date.

It depends a lot on the weather. Cool, calm weather prolongs the bloom. Warm, windy, rainy weather encourages a quick exit. I’ve put together a photo timeline based on recent years that gives some idea of what to expect, when. It also shows how much variation there can be year to year.

This year, there are still a number of trees trailing well behind the others. They probably won’t bloom until next week. That’s going to work in favor of drawing out the bloom even more than we’ve already seen (the first flowers started coming out on the indicator tree over three weeks ago.)

This year there have been so many curveballs that it’s even less predictable. That said, and because it’s a natural question that so many people are asking, here are my current best guesses based on the expectation that they’ll reach peak bloom around this coming weekend. Take these predictions with a grain of salt–I might well be wrong.

Which weekend? If you’re trying to decide whether to go this weekend (March 25-26) or next (April 1-2), this weekend is going to be better for blossoms. It’s also likely to be the most crowded.

Middle of next week. There should still be quite a few out in the middle of next week. There might still be many out. The current weather forecast suggests it should be warm with some rain, but nothing torrential. That warmth isn’t great for prolonging things, but the relatively calm conditions help.

For what it’s worth, about 2-3 days after peak bloom is my personal favorite time, so the beginning of next week should be beautiful. The flowers will start turning light pink and can look even better (in my humble opinion) than on the actual peak bloom day. You can see some examples here.

Weekend of April 1-2. The odds of there being much left by the weekend drop off quite a bit, but it still might be possible to see at least some blossoms. Aside from being roughly a week after peak bloom, current weather forecasts suggest that conditions might become more unsettled, with more rain and maybe even thunderstorms. Most of the blossoms will likely be well on their way out by then, but there’s still a good chance of the late bloomers sticking around. It might not be many, but there’s potentially a chance of seeing at least some blossoms.

Weekend of April 8-9. The main ones (Yoshinos) will be done, and it’s pretty unlikely that they won’t be all or nearly all leafing out by this point. But the timing could be excellent to see the Kwanzan cherry blossoms (and perhaps the tulips, another spring highlight around here). There are fewer of them, but blossom for blossom the Kwanzans are arguably even prettier than the Yoshinos. I have more information on them, including a map showing where to find some of the larger clusters, here.

Saturday is NPS Staff Appreciation Day

Okay, so no, this isn’t a real thing, but it’s an idea I like to throw out there each year as a gentle suggestion: that as you come across the NPS rangers, staff, or volunteers as you wander under the cherry blossoms, let them know you appreciate their efforts.

They’re not just there to be tour guides and help with directions. It’s the NPS staff who, day in day out and year-round, empty the trash cans, keep the facilities clean and safe, clear the snow and leaves, and keep the monuments in great shape–and I know from witnessing it personally that they do it at all hours and even in the most miserable weather conditions. And, of course, it’s NPS staff that tend to the cherry trees and keep them in such tip-top condition that some of the trees are now over a century old–much, much older than the typical lifespan of these trees. The National Park Service itself is woefully underfunded, but the NPS staff still manage to do a wonderful job in caring for the monuments and Tidal Basin area. A simple “thank you” goes a long way.

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 leadup 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 second, longer one was 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 wiped out about half of the blossoms because it came right when many were at the stage just before blooming where they were at their most vulnerable. A snow and ice storm turned them into cherry blossom popsicles.

But we’re through that now, temperatures are (mostly) moderating, and we’re well on the way to a second attempt at the bloom over the next several days.

Cherry Blossom Watch Instagram Feed

I’ve started a new Cherry Blossom Watch Instagram account: @cherryblossomwatch. 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.


Best Way to Get to the Cherry Blossoms?

The most famous of DC’s cherry blossoms, and the ones you’ve seen on postcards and TV, are around the Tidal Basin. That’s right next to the National Mall.

There are many ways to get there. Most of them are better than driving, especially on a weekend around peak bloom. Here’s a rundown of the main options.

Parking for the Cherry Blossoms?

This is something I get asked a lot, so I’ve put together a dedicated page on the subject with some ideas. You can find it on the post titled, appropriately enough, Parking for the Cherry Blossoms.

Best Time to Avoid Crowds?

Weekdays are typically less crowded than weekends.

Very early in the morning (around sunrise) is often the quietest (it’s all relative), with crowds building as the day goes on.

If crowds really aren’t your thing, the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin aren’t the only show in town. Here are some other places you can find them.

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

Here’s how they’re looking this morning.

The trees in this stretch, just to the east of the MLK Memorial, includes some of the oldest. They’ve been consistently trailing behind many of the others.

At certain times of the year, the sun hits the statue of Thomas Jefferson right after sunrise. This morning’s sunrise wasn’t perfectly clear, but the sun did poke through for a while about 20 minutes after sunrise.

An example of the range even on the same tree. With some flowers, some of the buds are still a few stages behind.

The Japanese Lantern (not to be confused with the Japanese Pagoda, which is but further around.

Even some of the badly damaged blossoms are still trying to bloom.

An example of some of the very damaged blossoms. As you wander around the Tidal Basin you can come across some entire trees like this, but they’re being overshadowed visually by the healthier ones.

Last updated March 25, 2017