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Continuing freezing weather, DC cherry blossoms are one stage away from peak


The National Park Service declared that Washington’s cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin reached their penultimate stage of development on Saturday, meaning peak blooms should occur within days.

While temperatures have been cooler than normal for most of the past 10 days, blossom buds reached stage 5 out of 6 on their third-earliest date on record since 2004. Exceptionally warm February and early March pushed blossoms through their first four stages in almost record time.

Climate change is causing cherry trees to bloom early — and endangering them

The blossoms are now in stage 5, also called “puffy white,” meaning most of the flowers are about to open. Some of the trees are already blooming and photographers at the Tidal Basin have shared beautiful views.

Less than 24 hours after the cherry blossoms reached stage 5, the coldest air in a month moved across the DC area Sunday morning and temperatures dipped above 20 degrees; at Reagan National Airport, just south of the Tidal Basin, the low was 29 degrees. Fortunately, exposed buds and early bloomers can withstand these temperatures. If it dropped below 28 degrees for more than a few hours, they would have suffered damage. This happened in 2017, when the temperature dropped below 20 degrees and half of the blossoms were damaged.

Temperatures are expected to drop back to above 20 and below 30 degrees on Monday and Tuesday mornings, likely slowing the blooms progress through this penultimate phase. But both day and night it will warm up quite a bit in the middle of the week, with lows reaching well above freezing and highs moderating into the 60s and 70s. The peak bloom is likely to fall between Tuesday and Friday.

The National Park Service declares peak flowering when 70 percent of cherry tree buds bloom. Once peak bloom occurs, the blossoms may remain on the trees for about a week if the weather is mild and the wind is light. But some years petals fall off sooner due to wind, rain or frost.

Through Thursday, the weather is generally favorable for seeing the blossoms. Winds should be mostly light to moderate; only Wednesday night offers a small chance of light showers.

Some more heavy showers and wind gusts are possible towards the end of Friday and Saturday morning, but next weekend should be quite nice and some flowers should remain.

Assuming peak bloom occurs between Tuesday and Friday (March 21 to 24), this would be about seven to 10 days earlier than average. Climate change and rising temperatures have shifted the average peak bloom date from about April 5 to March 31 over the past century; this year’s bloom cycle certainly fits into that trend towards earlier dates.

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