Now comes a team of scientists theorizing that with drastic warming of the globe, future decades could see blossom times not just a few days early but advanced by almost a month.
That could mean a bloom process that begins in January, rather than February, a blooming period in February instead of March, and a peak bloom in early March, instead of early April, the research suggests.
The ideas are contained in a scholarly paper published by experts at the University of Washington who studied data on the Tidal Basin’s blossoms, as “ideal indicators of the impacts of climate change.”
“Their flowering time is highly sensitive to temperatures, especially during the winter and early spring,” wrote Soo-Hyung Kim, an assistant professor at the university’s College of the Environment, and his colleagues.
The research, published last fall, was done in Kim’s lab along with colleague Uran Chung and was detailed through the Park Service last week.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Kim, a plant physiologist, said he used to work in a government agricultural facility in Beltsville and often took his family to see the cherry blossoms.
In addition, he said the Park Service kept good records on the blossoms going back more than 60 years and provided it for his research. “It tremendously helped me and made this study possible,” he said.
According to the more dire global warming scenario the scientists used — one with unchecked global population growth — the District’s cherry trees could be blooming 29 days earlier by 2080 and 13 days earlier by 2050.
A less severe scenario, with eventually declining population, had the trees blooming 10 days earlier by 2080 and five days earlier by 2050.
“Cherry blossom festivals of spring are culturally and economically important events,” Kim’s team wrote of events such as Washington’s annual blossom mania. “And successful planning requires that the cherry blossoms appear as expected within the festival period.
“Our results suggest that the timing of (peak bloom) and the window of the National Cherry Blossom Festival . . . may mismatch towards the second half of this century,” they wrote.
This year’s early bloom offers an illustration.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival’s centennial celebration, marking the first Tidal Basin planting in 1912, was expanded from the usual two weeks to almost six weeks to better celebrate the anniversary. It’s scheduled to start Tuesday and end April 27 but faces an elusive bloom period.
Spurred by one of the warmest winters on record, the blossoming process has accelerated, with the official bloom now expected by the National Park Service to start Sunday.