Spring was in the air again yesterday and here, to heighten the sense of season, is the National Park Service's best guess on Washington's annual rite of cherry blossom watching: They will be at their peak the first week in April.
What's more, William H. Anderson, the park service's chief scientist, predicted that this year the always fickle Japanese cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin will produce "a glorious profusion of blossoms," unlike last year when snowy, blustery weather froze and blew off the blossoms just as they made their annual trumpet call for spring's alleged arrival.
If the blossoms reach their peak in the first week of April, they also will coincide with this year's National Cherry Blossom Festival, a coincidence of nature and the calendar that in recent years has only occurred about half the time. The festival runs from April 3 to 10, with the annual Constitution Avenue parade on April 9 being televised nationally for the first time.
Festival organizers yesterday promised an expanded schedule of events, in addition to the perennial receptions, luncheons, ceremonies and Saturday night ball for the 56 princesses selected by state societies and U.S. territories.
The National Cherry Growers Association said it is sponsoring an April 8 log-splitting contest between six George Washington University students and an equal number of ax-wielders from the University of Pittsburgh, or Pitt, as in cherry pit, according to the man who helped dream up the first annual Cherry Bowl match, Jack Fones, editor of the Cherry Life newsletter.
Alas, they won't be cutting down any cherry trees, but rather chopping their way through tulip trees, which aren't as dear to a group that is trying to get Congress to make cherries the national fruit.
There also will be a paddle-boat race for the princesses on the Tidal Basin on April 7 and the $100,000, 256-mile Tour of America bicycle race from Virginia Beach to Washington will conclude with six three-mile laps through the Mall area on Sunday, April 10.
Matthew Weider, the parade chairman, said he expects 100,000 people may witness the parade and promised at least 25 bands, a dozen floats, a few elephants, Budweiser's Clydesdale horses, 50 or 60 antique cars and some of the oversized 40-foot-high balloon cartoon characters that floated through Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York.
He said there would be at least 6,000 bleacher seats available along the parade route between Eighth and 17th streets NW, possibly 6,000 more if the $9.25 tickets are selling well.
As for the blossoms, Anderson said the intermittent warm and cool weather of recent days should bring them to splendor. He said the buds are now in the green stage, when they need eight to 10 days of 60 degree-plus temperatures in the daytime and not less than 40 degrees at night to boost them toward blossoming.
In other words, a day much like yesterday, when the thermometer touched a balmy 76 and was not expected to dip below 40 overnight.
"We've had five days like that already," Anderson explained, and yesterday was the sixth. Once the green stage is past, Anderson said, the buds enter a 10 to 14 day pink stage, and it is then that the buds at last swell and the blossoms emerge.
So mark it on your calendar. Anderson says with no ifs, ands or buts: "There will be a glorious blossoming during the festival."