Earlier this year, a cold spring nor’easter inflicted unprecedented damage on the cherry trees at the Tidal Basin. Temperatures dropped into the low 20s after the pink blossoms had already begun to emerge from their casings. Half of the blooms were frozen before reaching their peak. Meanwhile, two inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain plastered the rest of Washington.
In a single day, Friday, Washington received 3.31 inches of rain — what usually amounts to an entire month’s worth.
I had the opportunity to photograph both nor’easters at the Tidal Basin, on March 14 and July 29, and I walked the same route and shot similar scenes during both photo shoots. I was careful to line up a few of the same views for comparison, and I selected a few different views for contrast.
As some of you know from reading my past articles, I love to compare photos of a particular location shot during different seasons. But this time, I added in nor’easters for a stormy twist to the seasonal comparison views.
So how did the nor’easter in March compare to the nor’easter in July?
For comfort, I’ll take a nor’easter in July over a nor’easter in March any day. It felt good walking around the Tidal Basin this past Saturday morning with temperatures in the upper 60s, a fresh northerly wind, and spits of rain. It was a nice break from the heat.
In contrast, the morning of March 14 featured strong winds with 29 degrees that whipped sleet under my umbrella, stinging my face. In addition, my fingers became slightly numb as I worked my camera in the cold conditions. It was one of my least comfortable photo shoots in recent memory.
Comparing the air pressure of the two storms, the March nor’easter registered a lowest pressure of 29.52 inches at DCA, while the July nor’easter registered a lowest pressure of 29.64 inches.
Comparing precipitation, the melted liquid equivalent of the snow, sleet, and ice from the March nor’easter was 1.23 inches. The nor’easter in July was more moist, producing 3.78 inches of rainfall.
Comparing winds, the maximum wind from the March storm was 32 mph and the maximum wind from the July storm was 25 mph.
During the March nor’easter, I planned for the worst case scenario and booked a hotel room in Rosslyn so I could walk across Memorial Bridge to photograph the storm before sunrise. During an ice storm, driving from my home in western Fairfax County to Washington is extremely unpleasant and somewhat dangerous. But for the July nor’easter, I simply waited for the heaviest rain bands to push east of Washington and I quickly drove to the Tidal Basin.
The trickiest part of my July photo shoot was figuring out the new National Park Service parking meters that have been placed around the Tidal Basin. The first one I found did not work properly and would only reserve 30 minutes for me. I initially thought it was user error until I tried another meter and was able to reserve 2.5 hours for my shoot. I actually have the Parkmobile app on my phone but dislike using the app more than the meters, at least when the meters are working properly.
But figuring out the parking meters was not too bad compared to slogging through two inches of sleet and ice from Rosslyn to Washington back in March. Imagine walking through thick beach sand for a few miles. That’s how it felt during my hike on the morning of March 14. It was great exercise, at least.
Of course, the nor’easter in March caused treacherous road conditions and most people did not venture out to the Tidal Basin on the morning of March 14, even to check out the blooming cherry blossoms. The Tidal Basin on Saturday morning, however, was full of people. Everyone enjoyed the break in the summer heat but the numerous puddles and muddy patches along the Tidal Basin trail made walking slightly challenging.
I did notice a small amount of erosion around the cherry trees as a result from the recent heavy rainfall, but overall the trees looked great. The hard freeze in March did not appear to damage any of the trees.
I hope to return to the Tidal Basin soon to photograph a few thunderstorms and, of course, I’ll be back to shoot the fall foliage. I plan to finish my 2017 four season view of the Tidal Basin in November, much like I did last year. Perhaps we’ll also have a fall nor’easter for comparison? We’ll see…