A mild winter in the nation’s capital means cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin could reach peak bloom in record fashion.
Organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival announced Wednesday that the blossoms are expected to hit peak bloom between March 14 and March 17. As a result of the early bloom, the month-long festival will begin March 15, five days earlier than planned. The festival will run through April 16.
The earliest peak bloom in the city is March 15, recorded in 1990, according to National Park Service records. In 2014 and 2015, peak bloom occurred April 10 — the latest the city had seen in a decade.
“Peak bloom” refers to the point when 70 percent of the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin are in bloom. The blossoms last year hit their peak on March 25, several days ahead of the average date of April 1. The latest peak bloom occurred April 18, 1958.
If the cherry blossoms bloom as predicted, most will not make it through the duration of the annual festival.
“Once they bloom, they’re pretty fragile,” said Gay Vietzke, superintendent for the Mall and memorial parks.
Vietzke said the District is home to about a dozen types of cherry blossom trees, some of which have started blooming. Peak bloom dates are calculated using the Somei Yoshino variety, which makes up more than 80 percent of the cherry blossom trees in the city.
The predicted peak bloom dates could change depending on weather in the coming days, Vietzke said. She said the Park Service will update its prediction as necessary.
Capital Weather Gang, The Washington Post’s weather blog, predicted Tuesday that peak bloom could come as soon as March 15, noting that the bloom process had already started during a warm February.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is considered the world’s largest U.S.-Japanese celebration. First lady Melania Trump is an honorary chairwoman of the festival, and Japanese ambassador Kenichiro Sasae is involved in planning.
Sasae, who is spending his fifth spring in Washington, said the cherry blossom trees symbolize a friendship between the two nations.
“I don’t need to say ‘Make this Cherry Blossom Festival great again,’ because it’s already great,” he said.
Japan gave 3,000 cherry trees to the District in 1912, and the National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual celebration of that gift. Although many of the original trees have been removed and others planted in their places, officials say about 100 original trees remain.
The festival attracts about 1.5 million people to the District and is a boon to the economy. Organizers call the festival “the nation’s greatest springtime celebration.”
Diana Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, said organizers do not expect the early peak bloom dates to hinder tourists from coming to the city.
She said the festival’s parade, scheduled for April 8, is an attraction of its own. The parade marches along Constitution Avenue NW between Seventh and 17th streets and showcases music and art from Japanese and American cultures. Former 98 Degrees boy-band member Drew Lachey and rapper DJ Kool, a D.C. native, will be among the performers. An all-day Japanese street festival, Sakura Matsuri, is planned near the parade site.
The Blossom Kite Festival on April 1 and April 2 is also expected to draw large crowds.
Other events include a Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival on April 15 and the Anacostia River Festival on April 9.
“Tradition and new, innovative programs will keep people coming,” Mayhew said.