Washington’s Cherry Blossoms are in peak bloom

Washington Post photo by Matt McClain
People gather to view blooming cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin on March 19 in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON – The National Park Service announced that Washington’s cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin reached peak bloom Thursday.

Peak bloom occurs when 70 percent of cherry tree buds are flowering. Each year, the trees – which were a gift from Japan in 1912 – attract massive crowds.

Once peak bloom occurs, the blossoms can remain on the trees for another week or so if the weather is mild and winds are light. But some years, petals fall off sooner because of wind, rain or frost.

The weather should generally be favorable for seeing the blossoms through the weekend, although some rain and gusty breezes Friday into Saturday could strip off some of the petals.

Meredith Brown, 25, drove roughly four hours from Raleigh, N.C., to see the trees begin to bloom. She visited the Tidal Basin with a group of friends and took pictures on Monday. There weren’t a lot of people around and the sky was clear. Most of the trees weren’t in peak bloom yet, but the sight was “wonderland-esque,” she said.

“I feel like we lucked out,” Brown said. She added that she plans to see it again another year.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival started Monday in coordination with the cherry blossoms flowering. It will run until April 16 with more than 30 events, which include a grand opening ceremony on Saturday, a kite festival on Sunday and a parade in April.

The excitement over the flowering trees has been clear all over town in anticipation of this week. Dozens of restaurants have announced cherry blossom-centric special menu items, and some D.C. Metro cars and buses are covered in cherry blossom decals.

The peak bloom date of March 23 is tied with 1946 and 1976 as the 9th earliest in records that date back to 1921.

Because of climate change and rising temperatures, the average peak bloom date has advanced from April 5 to March 31 since the 1920s.

The earliest peak bloom on record occurred on March 15, 1990, and the latest on April 18, 1958.

Peak bloom has occurred before March 31 in each of the last four years; last year’s peak bloom was on March 21, the 8th earliest on record.

The cherry blossom buds sped through their initial stages of development this year boosted by abnormally warm temperatures in February and early March. Their progress was slowed by chillier weather in mid-March, but the return of sunshine and mild weather in recent days pushed them to Thursday’s peak.

This year’s peak bloom comes within the March 22-25 window predicted by the National Park Service. It is earlier than the Capital Weather Gang’s initial projection for March 25-29 but within its revised window of March 19-23.

The blossoms were at Stage 5 on Saturday – known as “puffy white” – meaning most of the flowers were just about to open up.

Alan Randall showed his five-week-old daughter, Davina Randall, the cherry blossoms for the first time Friday. She wore a white onesie that said, “Little Blossom,” as he and his wife drove around the flowering trees at Hains Point in Southwest Washington. Some of the trees were just beginning to bloom and barely any people were around, he said.

The Randalls planned Friday as their official cherry blossom visit for the year, since they wanted to avoid the large crowds that turn out for peak bloom. They plan to visit again next year.

“It was a great start to a family tradition that really kind of captures the D.C. spirit,” Randall, 29, said.