The fragile but apparently resilient cherry blossoms survived this past weekend’s frigid temperatures and Monday’s snow. The lingering question is whether they will persist through the rest of the week’s cold snap.
“I am hopeful that they won’t freeze off,” said Michael Stachowicz, the turf specialist for the National Park Service in Washington. “We are going to have to get through these next few days and see what happens.”
Once budding cherry blossoms are exposed to temperatures below 27 degrees for a half-hour, 10 percent can be damaged. Sustained colder weather over multiple days can leave 90 percent of those blossoms so damaged that they will not bloom.
About 70 percent of the cherry blossoms are in this budding stage, known as peduncle elongation.
Stachowicz said that temperatures this past weekend were not as low as forecast and that few blossoms were damaged. The water in the Tidal Basin — adjacent to many of the blossoms — also has a moderating influence on temperatures.
“We made it through the weekend,” Stachowicz said.
Although the snowstorm left many of the cherry blossoms frozen, Stachowicz said that the ice has not been heavy enough to break them. Over the next three days, temperatures could reach the low 20s in Washington, posing one last crucial test for the buds.
“The next couple days are the coldest we have forecasted yet,” Stachowicz said. “Even though we have gotten down to 27 degrees, we haven’t seen that [10 percent] damage yet.”
Even if some blossoms are damaged, that does not mean they are ruined.
“I describe it as being dinged up,” Stachowicz said.
Some “damaged” buds might have a brown discoloration around the edges, for example, that is visible only on closer inspection.
The Park Service predicts that the cherry blossoms will reach peak bloom between Sunday, March 19 and March 22. “Peak bloom” refers to the point when 70 percent of the blossoms along the Tidal Basin are in bloom.
Officials had factored in the cold weather when determining the latest peak bloom dates, so no delays are expected as a result of the cold and snow.
Although a temperature of 20 degrees could hurt the cherry blossoms, it will not slow the blooming process any more than a temperature of 40 degrees, Stachowicz said. The question now becomes how many blossoms will make it to peak bloom.
Organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival have said that no matter the wrath of the weather, the celebration will go on as planned.
Diana Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, said the month-long event, which begins Wednesday, March 15, attracts tourists on its own. It features a Japanese street festival, musical performances, a kite festival and a fireworks show.
The flagship parade is scheduled for April 8 along Constitution Avenue NW before the festival wraps up April 16.
“We still have the events as scheduled,” Mayhew said. “It’s still nature’s kickoff of spring, not only in Washington but across the country.”