Snow, sleet and freezing rain accumulated two inches at the Tidal Basin on Tuesday morning. (Kevin Ambrose)

To track the blossom bloom, every week I’ll post a photo of the cherry tree (above) at the Tidal Basin as we transition from winter to spring. This is the fourth week of such posts. Here’s the post from week one, the post from week two and the post from week three.


The cherry trees at the Tidal Basin are nearing peak bloom, but a period of intensely cold weather on the heels of our recent nor’easter has endangered the bloom. Overnight temperatures in the low 20s will test the resilience of the developing blossoms. We’ll have to wait until later this week or weekend to assess the damage.

The majority of the cherry trees at the Tidal Basin are at stage four, peduncle elongation. At this stage, the blossoms can sustain minor damage with a temperature of 27 degrees and major damage with a temperature of 22 degrees or lower.

A few trees on the Tidal Basin, however, have developed beyond stage four and have reached full bloom, or are nearing full bloom. Blossoms that are fully developed are the most susceptible to damage from the cold temperatures.


A cluster of developing blossoms are encrusted in ice Tuesday morning. A few of the petals have started to turn brown. (Kevin Ambrose)

Heavy sleet falls at the Tidal Basin early Tuesday morning. (Kevin Ambrose)

Our unseasonably warm winter caused the cherry trees to start blooming at a near-record early date, but our return to winter has caused plenty of concern about the fate of the blooms.

After a winter storm struck Washington, the cherry blossom trees may not hit peak bloom for the first time in nearly a century. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

To my knowledge, the cherry trees at the Tidal Basin have always reached peak bloom since they were planted in 1912. They have never been killed prematurely by a freeze. If the blossoms manage to survive the deep freeze this week, peak bloom should occur this weekend or early next week.

I began this series of photo posts four weeks ago to “track the bloom as we transition from winter to spring.” Ironically, I’ve been tracking the bloom as we transition from spring weather to winter weather.

With each passing week, my Tidal Basin photo shoots have been colder and more winterlike. Then on Monday night and Tuesday morning, four weeks into the series, we had our first significant winter storm of the season. I’ve waited all winter to photograph snow at the Tidal Basin, and it finally happened in mid-March, near the end of my Tidal Basin blossom series. What bizarre weather we’ve experienced for the past few months!

The Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off Wednesday with ice and snow on the ground and with some of the coldest weather we’ve experienced this winter. Wednesday morning, the temperature dropped to 22 degrees in D.C. with a stiff breeze. We expect similar temperature readings Thursday morning.

Will the cherry blossoms suffer the same fate as the frozen magnolia blooms? Can they survive the repetitive hard freezes? We should know the answer soon.


Strong winds create waves on the Tidal Basin on Tuesday morning. (Kevin Ambrose)

A scene of the blue hour before sunrise with heavy sleet falling. (Kevin Ambrose)

This cherry tree at the Tidal Basin is reaching the final stage of blooming. (Kevin Ambrose)

The buds and blossoms were encased in ice Tuesday morning at the Tidal Basin. (Kevin Ambrose)

Footprints in the snow and sleet on the Tidal Basin trail just before sunrise. (Kevin Ambrose)

A blooming cherry tree with snow and ice. (Kevin Ambrose)

Not many photographers braved the ice storm Tuesday morning to photograph the cherry trees at the Tidal Basin. (Kevin Ambrose)

More cherry blossom coverage

Can the cherry blossoms survive this cold, snowy week?

D.C.’s cherry blossoms face the perfect storm

Some cherry trees may be a week from peak bloom

Cherry blossom forecast: Peak bloom may be record early this year

Tracking the cherry blossoms to full bloom — Week one

The warmer winter means cherry blossoms will peak early

Tracking blossoms to full bloom — what a difference a year makes

All Capital Weather Gang cherry blossom posts