The cherry blossoms were in almost full bloom yesterday a week ahead of schedule. The thousands of tourists posing for pictures under the trees usually don't come to Washington until the Cherry Blossom Festival, which starts Saturday.
The Washington area is having "June weather," according to forecasters, and that has pushed everything ahead of schedule -- including horrendous traffic jams around the Tidal Basin.
Tourists and residents turned out to savor the early splendor yesterday, and buses, cabs and cars crept past the Jefferson Memorial at a rate of a block or so every 10 or 15 minutes.
"Everybody is driving around," said a National Park Service spokeswoman.
Scientifically speaking, there is a shield of upper-level winds "in a position so that they won't allow any cold weather to get to this part of the country," said National Weather Bureau forecaster Scott Prosise.
As a result, the temperature soared yesterday to 83, just short of the record of 85, set in 1979.
"Our temperature was the normal high for June 8," said Prosise. "It's very pleasant, very unusual. I'm afraid we're going to get spoiled."
While forecasters expect temperatures of 75 to 80 to continue through Saturday, Prosise said, "Don't be surprised if we see temperatures back in the forties in a week or two."
But that's the real future. Yesterday, people relished in the "June weather." It came at a particularly wonderful time for many, the Monday after Easter, a holiday for some workers and for area schoolchildren.
At the John F. Kennedy playground at Sixth and P streets NW, Leona Clark and two friends sat at a picnic table watching their children and the 15 other neighborhood children they rounded up to bring to the park.
The children, including little girls still wearing fresh Easter curls in their hair, screamed and scrambled back and forth from swings to the jungle gym to the glistening double-dipper slide that stretched down two hills.
At the Tidal Basin, trash cans overflowing with empty ice cream cups, Popsicle wrappers and discarded soda bottles offered silent testimony to the crowds and to the heat that left throats dry.
"I sold lots and lots of ice cream and cold drinks," said Nhung Do, a food vendor on 17th Street NW near the White House.
"I sold more ice cream today than any other day so far this year , but I am so hot I sometimes feel crazy," she said, wiping sweat from her forehead as she stood in front of the small pizza oven and hot dog roaster in her truck.
Normally, Do's first big ice cream day would probably have been Saturday, when the Cherry Blossom Festival starts, the day that usually marks the beginning of the tourist season, according to National Park Service spokeswoman Sandra Alley, who said the blossoms were "80 percent out."
This year's tourist crunch began during the weekend, with the numbers of visitors nearly quadrupling from last week, Alley said.
The Lincoln Memorial had nearly 15,000 visitors on Saturday. The usual number of visitors for a day in March is 5,000 to 6,000, said Alley. A gridlock of taxis, cars and buses was evidence of the area's leap into the tourist season.
Some tourists posed for pictures beneath branches heavy with Washington's famous pink blossoms, while others strolled leisurely in the shade. "There is something about the renewing of the earth that is simply gorgeous," marveled Charla Pooley, a teacher from Mount Vernon, Ohio, as she strolled under the blossoms near the Washington Monument.
"I'm a Midwesterner and I have never seen such beautiful, beautiful cherry blossoms in my life," she said.
Downtown at McPherson Square, afternoon lunchers, dressed in cotton dresses and short-sleeved shirts that would normally be left hanging in their closets this time of year, performed sun rituals. They kicked off shoes and plopped down to eat lunches carried out from nearby restaurants or from home.
John Truran, a sales representative at Keppler Associates, slipped off his loafers, donned his "Formula 1" shades, ate his lunch and leaned back on the grass to read the paper. "I'm a park veteran," he said,acknowledging that it was the third time he had eaten in the park in the past week.
Nearby, his colleague Gwen Thomas woke from a little nap in the sun, freshened her lipstick, rose to brush her skirt in place and headed back to the office. "I love this and I wish it would stay like this forever and ever!" she said. "That's not very different, but it's true."