Cherry Blossom Watch Update: March 8, 2017

A few more trees have started popping their first flowers, although it's still only very few in terms of the total number of trees around the Tidal Basin. A few warms days should coax more out before an arctic blast hits on the weekend to stir things up.

UPDATE: In light of the cold temperatures forecast for the next week, the National Park Service has revised their peak bloom forecast to March 19-22.
UPDATE: The NPS determined that 70 percent of the Yoshinos have reached the peduncle elongation stage as of today, March 8. That’s the fourth of the six stages they track. In general, it’s around 6-10 days from peak bloom; sometimes a little shorter, sometimes a little longer.

Things are about to get interesting.

In the past 24 hours, a few more trees have started popping their first flowers. It’s still a very small number in terms of the total number of trees, but if you go hunting for them you can find at least some cherry blossoms out now.

Overall, there continues to be an unusually wide spread of stages. Some are well ahead of others. The upshot is that we might end up with a particularly drawn-out, staggered bloom this year rather than a sudden, dramatic boom. That might end up being good news for those who can’t make it right around the technical peak bloom period.

The cherry blossoms are going to be negotiating a bit of a minefield over the coming week. They have a few warm days to coax some more flowers out, and then an arctic blast looms for the weekend for some real winter. It might snow, or it might not, but it’s almost certainly going to be very cold. And that has potential to complicate things.

Could the the coming cold weekend present a problem?

So the natural question is: Will snow or freezing temperatures affect the cherry blossoms?

It might. As with frost, in the right (or wrong, if you will) mix of circumstances, freezing temperatures can damage the flowers and buds or even halt the bloom. It hasn’t ever actually stopped Washington DC’s cherry blossoms from blooming since records started being kept in the 1920s, but it remains a real possibility.

If we do get frost and freezing, the effect that it has on the cherry blossoms depends on what stage they’re at. While they’re wrapped tight, it’s not much of an issue. As they get further along the stages before flowering they become more vulnerable to frost and freezing.

Hopefully, they won’t share the fate of the saucer magnolias last weekend. Pretty much overnight, they went from this:

to this:

The unusually broad spread of development stages might actually be a saving grace for at least some of the cherry blossoms. They’re vulnerable to freezing temperatures in some stages more than others.

Naturally, I’ll be watching it closely and posting updates.

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.

Road Closures Saturday

If you’re planning to visit the Tidal Basin on Saturday, you’ll likely have to deal with the road closures and traffic related to the Rock ‘n’ Roll DC Marathon. It’s not actually going by the Tidal Basin or around Hains Point, but there’s likely to be spillover effects, at least for the start.

You can find details of road closures here.

Common Questions

I’m coming on the weekend of March 25-26 (or April 1-2). Will I be able to see the cherry blossoms?

In a normal year, they’re gone by a week after the peak bloom date, often sooner. So if the peak bloom ends up falling in the predicted March 14-17 range, it would usually mean that there wouldn’t be much left to see by March 25. I’ve put together a photo timeline that gives a sense of what you might expect to see in the days after peak bloom.

But there’s something else unusual about this year aside from how early it is: because the trees are at such a broad range of a development stages we might end up seeing an unusually gradual and drawn-out bloom.

This doesn’t really fit the normal pattern, so it’s impossible to say with much confidence what’s going to happen, and while it’s still unlikely that there’ll be much left by March 25, it’s not impossible that there’ll still be some late stragglers still flowering.

The chances are much reduced for the weekend of April 1-2. But it’s possible the Kwanzan cherry blossoms might be starting to bloom by then. There are fewer of them, but they’re very pretty. I have more information on them and how to find them here.

Could frost or snow be a problem?

Perhaps. See above for a more detailed answer.

Where can I find cherry blossoms blooming now?

Around the Tidal Basin itself, only a handful of trees are currently blooming, but you can find some if you go hunting.

One is the indicator tree. I have directions on how to find it here. More photogenic is a large tree that’s over next to the FDR Memorial. You can’t miss it–it stands out (see the photo here). As of March 8, a few more trees scattered around the Tidal Basin have just started showing their first flowers. More will come out in the warm weather of the next few days.

There are also some cherry blossoms of a different variety blooming along the Potomac waterfront along Ohio Drive. With low, sweeping branches, they’re very good for posing next to for portraits. The densest cluster is on the Lincoln Memorial end, near the John Ericsson Memorial. There are some others scattered elsewhere, such as the intersection of West Basin Dr SW (the road that runs by the FDR Memorial and MLK Memorial) and Ohio Drive SW.

Maine Ave SW Parking Lot

Is still open normally for parking.

It will be closed next week to accommodate the National Cherry Blossom Festival Welcome Center.

Traffic Restrictions on Ohio Drive

There are no traffic restrictions in place along Ohio Drive yet. Traffic patterns and parking remain normal. And it’s still very quiet around the Tidal Basin, so finding a parking spot isn’t a problem.

Photos from this Morning

One tree in full bloom stands out amongst its neighbors that have yet to catch up.

High tide.

Last updated March 8, 2017

View Comments

  • How vulnerable is the peduncle stage to the cold? I have a bad feeling that we're going to end up with a lot of dead flowers on the tree, a la saucer magnolias.

    • Very. In the peduncle elongation stage, which at least 70 percent of them are now in, they are especially vulnerable to frost and can also simply freeze if it gets below about 28°. Current forecasts are calling for temperatures to dip well below that. So yes, the risk of damage is real.

  • Thank you for posting all of this information as it is very helpful for us. We going to be in D.C from 16-20, hopefully the flowers will reach its peak by then.

  • Thanks for all the updates, we love your website! We're going to drive in on a weekend (we're from NYC, 4 hours away). Does the cold mean I should feel confident coming March 18-19 instead of this weekend?

    • Assuming the cold doesn't do much damage, the weekend of 18-19 should be good. It looks like it might be a more gradual, staggered bloom this year, so they might not all be out at exactly the same time, but they should still be looking great. I'll be posting another update tomorrow morning which should be a good indication of how they'll look this weekend. At this point I expect more to be out on the weekend of 18-19.