For the second winter in a row, exceptional warmth has been the theme in Washington. We can hardly remember the biting cold that rang in the New Year now that the temperature is 80 degrees — the earliest on record in the District.

Predictably, plants are starting to come out of their dormancy. Buds are sprouting on trees and bushes, and cherry blossoms — actual blossoms — are popping out on the Mall. Things aren’t as far along as they were at this point last year, but we’re seeing signals an early bloom is possible. Of course, as we saw last year, that can mean trouble.

The early-blooming cherry trees will be the first to pop. That’s what we’re seeing on the Mall near the Washington Monument and also across the river in Arlington. Around the Tidal Basin, we have yet to see anything significant from the Yoshino variety of cherry tree, which is what all of the cherry blossom festivities revolve around. The Yoshinos were originally planted by first lady Helen Taft and Iwa Chinda, the wife of the Japanese ambassador, in 1912. It may be weeks before those trees bloom.

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

Last year, “peak bloom” occurred March 25, according to the National Park Service. But a very warm January and February brought around half of the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms to their penultimate stage, when they become very susceptible to freezes. On March 15, a late snowstorm and hard freeze swept across the D.C. region, killing off about half of the blooms.

Another recent early bloom was in 2012, when December, January and February were all more than 5 degrees warmer than normal. That year, the blossoms peaked March 20.

Year Peak bloom
1990 March 15
2000 March 17
1921, 1927, 1945, 2012 March 20
1946, 1976 March 23
1938, 2017 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

These are the stages to expect as we begin to watch the cherry trees, according to the National Park Service. Especially when the blossoms are ahead of schedule — like they might be this year — this timeline may 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

A few blossoms have already started to bloom on the Mall. This photo was taken Feb. 15. (Joe Flood)

Some varieties of cherry trees bloom much earlier than the classic Yoshino variety around the Tidal Basin. (Jim Havard)

Thanks to our photo contributors Jim Havard and Joe Flood for keeping tabs on the cherry blossoms for us!