It seemed like spring arrived early last week when temperatures along the East Coast hit an unusually warm high of 60s and 70s. Washington, D.C.’s famous cherry blossoms thought so, too: The warm weather lured the trees into producing buds. The National Park Service even predicted peak bloom, which happens when 70 percent of the cherry blossoms in D.C.’s Tidal Basin are fully open, would occur between March 14 and 17. Considering peak bloom usually isn’t until April, that’s pretty early!
But Winter Storm Stella, and the cold temperatures that followed it this week, changed things. Temperatures suddenly plummeted by tens of degrees in some places, bringing snow and freezing rain. Washington, D.C., received 4 inches of snow as well as temperatures below 30 degrees. The storm pushed back the expected peak bloom of the cherry blossoms to between March 19 and 22—still three days before last year’s peak bloom.
Unfortunately, the storm and the following chilly weather might kill off the blooms before they can fully open. “Because the blossoms are so close to peak bloom and are exposed from the protection of the buds, they are particularly vulnerable to cold temperatures right now,” explains Mike Litterst, a spokesperson for the National Park Service. If the weather changes prevent the trees from reaching peak bloom, it would be the first time since 1921, when the National Park Service began tracking the cherry blossoms’ blooms, that they failed to do so.
Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossom trees were a gift from Japan in 1912. Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo gifted the city 3,000 cherry blossom trees to celebrate the friendship between the United States and Japan. First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees. Since then, more cherry trees have been planted and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival has become a celebration of springtime, community, and diversity.
Whether the cherry blossom trees bloom or not, the festival will go on. And there is hope—a second, different type of cherry blossom trees should still bloom as planned in April.