Cherry Blossom Forecast Update: When Will Washington, D.C. Reach Peak Bloom?

Washington DC in Spring
Washington D.C. in Spring iStock / SeanPavonePhoto

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the National Park Service's most recent prediction, announced on March 23.

This month the nation’s capital will erupt in pink as the cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin reach their fantastic annual blooms.

Although this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival will run through April 15, those who want to get the ultimate experience should head to D.C. earlier than expected to enjoy peak bloom.

The National Park Service was originally forecasting the peak would be as early as March 17-20 but revised their forecast on March 23 to April 8-12.

Earlier this week, the NPS went on “Bloom Watch.” When the Yoshino Cherry trees reach green bud — the first of six stages that culminate in a bloom — the NPS starts keeping track. Over the next few weeks, the buds will progress as their florets become visible, emerge and finally become puffy white.

Cherry Blossom Forecast Update: When Will Washington, D.C. Reach Peak Bloom?
Crowds walk below cherry trees and the Washington Monument during the spring festival around the Tidal Basin. iStock / SeanPavonePhoto

“Peak bloom” is defined by the NPS as the day when 70 percent of the basin’s Yoshino Cherry Blossoms are open. Typical blooms occur between the last week of March and first week of April, however they’ve bloomed as early as March 15 and as late as April 18.

This year’s earlier-than-expected blooms can be credited to a warmer-than-average February. Last year, the blooms were expected to peak in mid March (14-17) but a snowstorm came and killed all blossoms that were near peak. The NPS then pushed back peak predictions for the remaining blossoms which finally reached peak bloom on March 25.

As evidenced by last year, the prediction isn’t necessarily a definitive timeline. The NPS cannot be confident of its prediction until about 10 days before peak bloom — and even then, last-minute extreme weather can alter things.

Visitors and voyeurs can keep an eye on the cherry blossom blooms with the Cherry Blossom Cam.

Cherry Blossom Forecast Update: When Will Washington, D.C. Reach Peak Bloom?
Tourists gather under the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in West Potomac Park. iStock / SeanPavonePhoto

How long do cherry blossom blooms last?

Cherry blossom blooms only last a little while — which is part of what makes the peak bloom so special. The time from when those first early blooms appear on the trees to when they all begin to fall off the tree is only about two weeks.

Travelers who can’t make it to D.C. during the peak time have a small window in which they can play. For about two days before and two days after, the trees still appear like they’re in peak bloom.

And even well beyond the peak period, D.C. will host events in honor of the cherry blossoms. The Pink Tie Party kicks off the festival with a benefit for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The opening ceremony takes place on March 24 and over the next few weeks, there are concerts, events and outdoor activities for families. The festival closes on April 14 with a parade.

The cherry blossoms have been blooming in D.C. since they were planted in 1912 as a gift from the Japanese. Each year, an estimated 1.5 million people flock to the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which began as a modest affair but has since grown to a three-week-long extravaganza.

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