It’s a stunning spring morning–sunny, warm, and still. Enjoy it while it lasts, though, because things are going downhill starting tomorrow.
The cherry blossoms are going to be negotiating a bit of a minefield over the coming week. We’re midway through a short warm stretch, but that’s not going to last much longer. Cold weather is coming, and soon. And that has the potential to cause problems. More on that below.
While it’s going to be cold, it’s actually perfectly normal for this time of year. A quick flashback to two years ago shows the Tidal Basin still frozen over. The new factor this year is that the cherry blossoms are developing so early that the freezing temperatures are both more likely and potentially more problematic.
The big development in the past 24 hours is that late yesterday afternoon the National Park Service revised their peak bloom prediction. The new dates are March 19 to 22 (the old dates, issued just last week, were March 14-17). They cite colder than expected temperatures over the coming week for pushing the dates back a bit.
As expected, the warm weather yesterday coaxed a few more flowers out. It’s still not many, but more trees have a few flowers starting to show. The warm weather today will coax some more out. It’s nothing like full bloom yet–it’s still very few flowers in the context of the whole–but if you go hunting you can at least find some blossoms out.
Could the the coming cold weekend present a problem?
So the natural question is: Could snow or freezing temperatures affect the cherry blossoms?
Yes. It will slow things down, which is why the National Park Service revised their peak bloom prediction yesterday, pushing it back by several days. It’s also possible it ends up doing much more than that.
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.
The effect that freezing temperatures and frost have 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. And that’s why it’s potentially an issue now.
Most of the trees are currently in what’s known as the peduncle elongation stage. The NPS judged that 70 percent of the Yoshinos had reached that stage as of yesterday, March 8. And that just happens to be the stage at which they’re most vulnerable to frost and freezing.
It’s a two-pronged problem. Frost can cause damage. But even without the right mix of environment factors to actually create frost, cold temperatures below 28° can simply freeze them. Current weather forecasts are expecting temperatures to dip well below that.
Fingers crossed that the cherry blossoms won’t share the fate of the saucer magnolias last weekend.
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.
The Early Bloomers
Here’s a sequence of the exactly the same flowers shot over the past few days. Differences in lighting conditions aside, as of this morning they’re just starting to look a little less pristine, although none of the petals have started coming off yet.
These are on the early-blooming tree by the FDR Memorial. It has been in full bloom for several days now.
Heads Up: Road Closures on Saturday
If you’re planning to visit the Tidal Basin on Saturday, there will be road 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 through much of the downtown area.
You can find details of road closures here.
I’m coming on the weekend of March 25-26 (or April 1-2). Will I be able to see the cherry blossoms?
In light of the revised NPS peak bloom forecast, the weekend of March 25-26 is now looking much more promising than it was before simply because it’s now closer to the predicted peak bloom dates. If the peak bloom ends up happening on March 19, the trees will be well on their way out by the 25th. If it falls on March 22, there should be much more still left to see. I’ll also emphasize the “if” elements here–it’s even possible that the prediction ends up missing the mark.
I’ve put together a photo timeline that gives a sense of what you might expect to see in the days after peak bloom. The photos are only a rough guide–it might be that we end up with an unusually drawn-out and staggered bloom this year.
The chances are much reduced for the weekend of April 1-2. The NPS predicts that the Kwanzan cherry blossoms will reach peak bloom on April 11. 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 or freezing temperatures be a problem?
Potentially. 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 fully blooming, and a couple are already just starting to move past their prime. Quite a few more have started showing their first flowers. It’s getting easier to find flowers out, but it still involves a bit of hunting. Most of the trees are yet to bloom.
There are also some cherry blossoms of a different variety blooming along the Potomac waterfront along Ohio Drive. With low, sweeping branches, the Weeping cherry blossoms are 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 and by the George Mason Memorial.
Maine Ave SW Parking Lot
It’s closed for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. They’ll be setting up temporary tents and facilities in coming days for the Welcome Center due to open on March 15.
Traffic Restrictions on Ohio Drive
It has normal traffic patterns. And it’s still very quiet around the Tidal Basin, so finding a parking spot isn’t a problem.
Photos from this Morning
To show the amount of variation, this photo and the one next two it are of two adjacent trees roughly 12 feet apart. They’re at very different points right now.
Want to Help Support DC's Cherry Trees?
If you'd like to help support the care and upkeep of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, the Trust for The National Mall has launched an Endow a Cherry Tree Campaign. Donations go to the official Cherry Tree Endowment, which will give the National Park Service additional resources to fund the care, maintenance, and possible replacement of the cherry trees. You can find more information here.
The Trust is dedicated to marshaling private support for maintaining and improving the history National Mall area. I'm not affiliated with the Trust--just an admirer of their efforts.