DC cherry blossoms off to early start, but winter isn’t over yet
The early budding of one particular cherry blossom tree amid a slew of unseasonably warm days in D.C. may indicate an early bloom. However, the remaining weeks of winter may endanger buds that bloom too soon.
Snow and ice accumulate on a blooming cherry tree in Washington, Saturday, March 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Warmer weather is beginning to thaw out parts of the Southeast and mid-Atlantic, including in Washington, D.C., where the famous cherry blossoms associated with the arrival of spring are beginning to bud.
The problem, however, is that start of spring is still weeks away.
The indicator tree, which is used to monitor blossom progression, was undergoing the first of six stages in bud development a few weeks earlier than usual, according to the National Park Service (NPS). While the sight of spring may be welcomed by some, winter's last gasps could endanger the early bloom.
Leslie Frattaroli, a natural resources program manager with the NPS, told The Washington Post that she listed the indicator tree at the "green bud" phase, or the first stage in the budding process, on Feb. 13 -- approximately two weeks earlier than last year. The general number of blossoms reached the green bud phase on March 3 in 2022.
The timing of the blossoms and wintry conditions will be key to the survival of the early bloomers, as the flowers are particularly susceptible to wintry weather during their later phases.
Cherry trees blossom as the U.S. Capitol Dome is seen through falling snow in Washington, Saturday, March 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Winter has decimated the bloom before, the most recent case occurring in 2017 when a late frost from March 14-16 wiped out at least half of the Yoshino blossoms. The general blossom population (70% of the blossoms) had reached the fourth stage, the peduncle elongation stage, and the point at which the flowers become susceptible to the cold and frost, on March 8. That year, the general number of blossoms reached the green bud stage on Feb. 24.
Typically, it can take between three to four weeks for the blossoms to progress from the green bud phase to peak bloom.
AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist and Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok warned that the wintry weather isn’t gone for good yet. Long-range forecasts indicate that there is a chance for colder weather that will stick around longer than any preceding cold spells after March 15, and there will even be an opportunity for snow.
Multiple cold shots are in store for late March into April, according to Pastelok, adding that’s when there will be a greater chance of frost and even the potential for multiple frost events that could do the buds in.
According to data from the National Park Service, the blossoms usually reach the fourth phase of the blooming process in mid- to late March, with the average peak bloom date landing around April 4.
"April will feature more ups and downs and more cooldowns than we have experienced so far in 2023," Pastelok said. "The chances are good for temperatures dropping into the 30s at times this April."
Peak bloom dates have been trending earlier in recent years, with scientists maintaining high confidence that recent warming trends in the climate are causing spring events — like flower blooms — to occur earlier, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
From 2004 to 2022, the blossoms reached peak bloom before April 4 in 14 of the 19 years, according to data collected by the NPS, with the EPA noting that peak bloom dates have shifted earlier by about seven days since 1921.
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