Snow and ice at the Tidal Basin with blossoms Tuesday morning. (Kevin Ambrose)

The Tidal Basin looks strange right now. Some cherry trees have begun to flower, and there’s a stubborn pack of snow on the ground. For those of us who love cherry blossom season, this would seem like terrible news — but it turns out there’s no reason to panic.

We’ve had a week of back-to-back hard freezes in Washington, with the coldest morning occurring Wednesday when the temperature fell to 22 degrees. That was the hardest night on the blossoms, according to the National Park Service’s Michael Stachowicz, the guy in charge of tracking the trees. The second coldest morning occurred a day later, on Thursday, with a temperature of 24 degrees.

Though freezing temperatures are hard on flowers that have started to open, the cold doesn’t damage those that are in the young stages. In fact, Stachowicz said, even some of the trees that were in the near-peak stage, “puffy white,” made it through the freeze unharmed.

It’s great news for blossom watchers.

It has been a strange winter for the nation’s favorite cherry trees. February was extremely warm (warmest on record in Washington, actually) which pushed the trees out of hibernation and into flower-growing mode. But even though this process began early, by the second week of March, the trees were in a wide variety of stages.

And that’s the silver lining to this gray, wintry cloud. If all the trees were close to peak bloom, things would have been bad. But more than half the trees were in a younger, more winter-hardy stage, and many of the puffy white blossoms hung on for dear life successfully.

There’s no denying that the cold did widespread damage to the puffy white blossoms. Some of the flowers have browned, yes, but there are large pockets of trees at the Tidal Basin that are unharmed. Stachowicz and his colleagues are bringing clippings of the trees indoors to warm them up and force them to bloom, and they’re seeing good flowers come from trees they thought may have been damaged.

There’s been a lot of pessimistic news about the blossoms this year, but Stachowicz said there’s no reason to think the Tidal Basin isn’t going to have a beautiful bloom season.

“Our blooms are just so dense and lush and just overwhelming,” he said. “There might be some trees that don’t blossom at all, but I think that will be in the minority.”


Comparing a cherry tree last year (left) with the same tree this year (right). The photo on the left was taken March 29, 2016, and the photo on the right was taken Tuesday. (Kevin Ambrose)

Ice on the cherry trees Tuesday. (Kevin Ambrose)

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

A cherry tree is beginning to blossom at the Tidal Basin Tuesday. (Kevin Ambrose)

A blossom photo from the Tidal Basin on Sunday, before the week of hard freezes. (Kevin Ambrose)

As early as March 5, a few of the cherry trees near the Tidal Basin had started to bloom. The wild swings in the temperature of the past few weeks have caused the trees to start blooming at much different times and rates compared with past years. (Kevin Ambrose)