Wednesday marked the first full day of Spring. But the weather was anything but Spring-like in much of the northeast. It was cold and snowy in Washington, D.C. A nor'easter blanketed the nation's capitol with about four inches of snow. Government offices were closed. Kids enjoyed a snow day. And city streets were nearly empty. But even as the snow was falling, many people turned their attention to the beloved cherry trees in the Tidal Basin. After all, the world famous Cherry Blossom Festival had already begun just a day earlier. Would the winter storm hurt the cherry blossoms? That was the big question.
There was also great concern, because last year, the cherry blossoms were heavily damaged by a late season cold snap. There are about 3,800 cherry blossom trees in the city, the bulk of which are along the Tidal Basin. Frigid March temperatures and a snowstorm ravaged about half of the city’s cherry blossoms. While the trees were not harmed, it was one of the worst blooms in the 105-year history of the cherry blossoms.
Fast forward to March 2018, and along comes another winter storm, just as the city is once again eagerly awaiting the cherry blossoms. But this year, the weather patterns have been a little different. February of 2017 was very warm. In fact, it was the city's warmest February on record. This caused the cherry blossom process to accelerate. Peak bloom was expected to be earlier than usual. Then in March 2017, a series of hard freezes hit Washington. Temps dropped into the low to mid 20's on several nights. The cold temperatures killed the blossoms that were in their fifth and final stage before full bloom. About 50 percent of the blossoms were in this final stage. But this year, temperatures have stayed relatively cold throughout the winter. And February 2018 was a cold month. So the blossoms were not as far along in the blooming process.
5 Stages In The Blooming Pocess
- Green Color in Buds: Mid to late February – Early March
- Florets Visible: Early to Mid March, 16-21 days to Peak Bloom
- Extension of Florets: 12-17 days to Peak Bloom
- Peduncle Elongation: 5-10 days to Peak Bloom (Frost Critical)
- Puffy White: 4-6 days to Peak Bloom
Last year, half of the blossoms were in the 5th stage, almost ready to bloom, when the hard freezes occurred. At this stage, they were very susceptible to killing frost. However this year, most of the blossoms had not even reached the 4th stage when the winter storm hit. The cherry blossom buds are still tight enough that they should be unharmed from the winter weather this week. This is great news!!
The cherry blossoms don't last very long. The entire process from buds, to beautiful flowers, to falling off the branches, only takes about a week or two. And it's not a given when this brief period will happen. The peak bloom date is defined as the day on which 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin are open, and it changes from year to year. The National Park Service issues its first peak bloom forecast for the season in early March. The blooming forecast depends on factors such as winter temperatures, the current state of the trees, and the weather forecasts for the coming month. The forecast often changes through March as the bloom gets closer. The average peak bloom since 1921 is April 4th. Over the last ten years, the earliest bloom date was March 20th, 2012. The latest date was April 10th in 2013 and 2014.
This year, the festival runs from March 20th to April 15th. According to the National Park Service, peak bloom is expected between March 27 and March 31
. And if all goes according to plan, it should be a spectacular site along the Tidal Basin. So make your plans to head to Washington, and enjoy the splendor of the cherry blossoms!
For WeatherNation: Meteorologist Matt Monroe