Cherry blossom watch starts in DC as trees hit small green buds stage

Cherry blossoms might make an early appearance this year, WTOP's Melissa Howell reports.

The countdown is on for lovers of D.C.’s famed cherry blossoms. The Yoshino cherry trees at the Tidal Basin are starting to bud, marking the first of six stages on the way to peak bloom, the National Park Service said Thursday.

The NPS will announce the date of peak bloom March 1. NPS Spokesman Mike Litterst said it will likely be earlier than average, and could be even earlier than last year’s peak bloom of March 25, based on the activity of one tree that blooms earlier than the rest.

“The indicator tree reached stage one of the six stages that lead to being in bloom on the 13th, which was 10 days, or a couple weeks earlier than it was last year. So just from that initially, we’re not only probably looking at an earlier than average date, we’re probably looking earlier than last year,” he said.

Thursday’s weather provided the perfect conditions for the cherry trees to start budding. High temperatures broke the 80-degree mark in parts of the D.C. region, shattering Feb. 23 records.

StormTeam4 Meteorologist Chad Merrill said that the temperatures during February and March are playing a crucial role in when the peak bloom date will be.

One thing is for sure, he said: “The peak bloom will definitely be ahead of schedule this year.”

Temperatures will be much colder Friday, with highs in the upper 40s to low 50s. Litterst said if temperatures drop consistently, it could still push the date of peak bloom back. The earliest peak bloom recorded was on March 15.

“I really hope that doesn’t impact the peak bloom significantly,” Merrill said of a possible temperature drop. “A big freeze in the middle of March would be devastating.”

As for the other flowering trees that blossom and bring spectacular colors to the region, the warm weather could spell bad news. Some experts told WTOP that warmer winter weather causes trees to push out their blooms because they’re tricked into thinking it’s a spring day.

Colder air than what typically comes in is what quickly wipes out those blooms.

“That frequently prohibits the trees from reblooming later,” said Lou Meyer, an arborist in the D.C. area with the Davey Tree Expert Company. “It takes a lot of energy for the trees to push out new flowers, so at the normal time of bloom, you just don’t see them.”

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty, Melissa Howell and Nick Iannelli contributed to this report.

Thomas Robertson

Thomas Robertson is an Associate Producer and Web Writer/Editor at WTOP. After graduating in 2019 from James Madison University, Thomas moved away from Virginia for the first time in his life to cover the local government beat for a small daily newspaper in Zanesville, Ohio.

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