We haven’t had much of a “winter” in Washington, and spring is almost here — though I could argue it already arrived. The plants are obviously going to leave their dormancy early (the crocuses are up!), which has us wondering about the cherry blossoms.

Last month was the second-warmest January since the year 2000, and the 12th-warmest January since records began in Washington. It didn’t drop below freezing for 19 days in a row, which is not only a record-warm streak for the month, but also just plain strange; January is typically the coldest month in the capital.

And the weird continues. Washington is one day short of the longest streak of days at or above 60 degrees in February, and 70s are in the forecast later this week.

If you’re trying to make blossom plans, this year might prove to be a challenge. At the Tidal Basin, the cherry trees are already sprouting buds. It’s not obscenely early, but still much earlier than average. It suggests we’re probably going to hit peak bloom well before the average date of April 4.

A warm winter is just one of the factors that influence when cherry trees leave dormancy and thus when they hit peak bloom. We’re going to take a stab at a forecast later this week. In the meantime, examining historical bloom dates may help put a bound on what we can expect this year.

The National Park Service has a record of peak bloom date back to 1921. The cherry trees on the Tidal Basin peaked in March 28 times since then, and 11 of those instances were post-1990.

Year Peak bloom
1990 March 15
2000 March 17
1921, 1927, 1945, 2012 March 20
1946, 1976 March 23
1938 March 25
1977, 1997 March 26
1925, 1953, 1998 March 27
1948, 1987 March 28
1949, 1989, 1991, 2008, 2011 March 29
1939, 1968, 2006 March 30
1929, 1988, 2004, 2010 March 31

As we count down the days to peak bloom here’s the timeline you can expect, according to the National Park Service. Even if the blossoms are ahead of schedule, this timeline can still be helpful in planning.

  1. Green color in buds: Mid to late February and early March
  2. Florets visible: Early to mid-March, signals 16 to 21 days to peak bloom
  3. Extension of florets: Signals 12 to 17 days to peak bloom
  4. Peduncle elongation: Signals five to 10 days to peak bloom
  5. Puffy white: Signals four to six days to peak bloom

Look for a peak bloom forecast from the Capital Weather Gang later this week.