Will snow and cold damage the cherry blossoms?

Cherry blossoms in the snow. March 27, 2011 (Ian Livingston)
Cherry blossoms in the snow. March 27, 2011 (Ian Livingston)

Today’s snow and the recent cold snap raise the questions: Will this wintry blast delay the cherry blossoms’ peak bloom, or harm them? The short answer is no.

Reports the Associated Press:

National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson says Monday’s snow should not affect the predicted peak bloom dates for the flowering trees. The cherry blossoms are still expected to reach peak bloom between April 3 and April 6.

Today’s snow had essentially the same effect as rain on the blossoms.  Snow would not harm the blossoms unless it was heavy enough to cause cherry tree limbs to break – which it wasn’t. Of course, had the blossoms already been flowering, the snow would have knocked off some of the petals.

But blossoms’ buds have yet to burst, slowed by the unseasonably chilly weather. Are they at all threatened by the cold weather?  The opposite said Robert DeFeo – then chief horticulturalist of the National Park Service in a Washington Post online chat in 2006.

“[Cold temperatures] are actually good from the perspective of the festival in that the opening of the cherries and their development through the blooming period is a biological process which is slowed down by cooler temperatures,” DeFeo said. “Therefore, the cooler temperatures are going to prolong the blooming period…”

Only extraordinarily cold weather could damage the blossoms, with temperatures dropping into the teens DeFeo said.  Temperatures at the Tidal Basin probably won’t drop much below 30 in the next few days before milder conditions return.

The blossoms remain on track for a peak bloom late in the first week of April.

“The blooming period starts several days before the peak bloom date and can last as long as 14 days, however, frost or high temperatures combined with wind or rain can shorten this period,” the National Park Service says on its website.

Video

Related

Cherry blossom peak bloom forecast from Capital Weather Gang: April 5

Classic cherry blossom photos from the Library of Congress

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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