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Could cold snap impact D.C.’s cherry blossoms?

A cherry tree along the Tidal Basin. (Courtesy Michael Stachowicz, Turf Management Specialist for the National Park Service)

WASHINGTON — The keepers of the Tidal Basin’s cherry blossom trees will be on high alert this weekend with a dose of cold weather forecast to move into the area Sunday.

The fear with the cold spell is frost forming on the buds, which are in the peduncle elongation stage — the second-to-last stage before peak bloom.

“You would just basically not see a bloom and you might see some of the petals just die and fall off,” said Turf Management Specialist for the National Park Service Michael Stachowicz.

He says a warm March put the trees in high gear, and many buds are now in the fragile pre-bloom stage.

“We kind of raced through some of the stages pretty quickly after the first few days of March,” Stachowicz said.

Some members of the team that watch over the trees have been on the job for decades, and none have seen frost affect the cherry bloom show.

Sunday’s cold is a concern, but Stachowicz said the Tidal Basin is usually warmer than other areas and breezy, and those two factors could help prevent frost from developing on the precious buds.

“Everybody I’ve talked to is optimistic that we’re going to make it through,” he said.

There are six stages for the flowers before they add a sea of color to the Tidal Basin. According to Stachowicz, visitors begin seeing green buds in February, which can remain for some time.

Then those give way to florets, next the florets extend, followed by peduncle elongation, the puffy white stage and finally it is showtime with peak bloom.

The trees can handle fluctuating temperatures, but Stachowicz said the buds being in an advanced stage make a dip in the temperature something to keep an eye on.

Blizzard-like conditions also can take a toll on the blooms, but Stachowicz said the snow forecast this weekend is not aggressive enough to hurt the trees, especially since many of the buds will not be open.

Stachowicz, who is the one who determines peak bloom, says the wacky weather this year has kept the team on its feet and has led to several changes in the prediction for peak bloom.

“The weather forecasting this month has been very tough on us,” he said.

Peak bloom is now predicted to begin March 23 and March 24.

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