If peak bloom occurs on March 22, it would mark the seventh earliest date on record (since 1921). The earliest peak bloom on record was March 15, 1990. The March 22 date would be nine days earlier than the 30-year average of March 31, and 12 days before the longer-term (1921 to 2019) average of April 3.
Such an early bloom would fit in with many other trees in the area, which are leafing and flowering up to two to three weeks ahead of schedule.
When temperatures surged to 74 degrees Monday, the National Park Service reported that the blossom buds had already reached their third stage (out of six), called extension of florets. On average, peak bloom occurs a little more than 10 days after this stage, although the range in recent years has been six to 16 days.
In addition, Leslie Frattaroli, natural resources program manager at the Park Service, wrote in an email that the cherry blossom “indicator tree” was already in full bloom. Typically, the rest of the trees at the Tidal Basin hit peak bloom about seven to 10 days after the indicator tree.
The abnormally mild weather, which began in the winter, has accelerated this year’s bloom cycle. The cherry trees reached the first stage, “green buds,” on the fourth earliest date since 2004 (Feb. 28) and reached the second stage, “florets visible,” just four days later (March 3). The Capital Weather Gang’s Ian Livingston tweeted that the four-day interval between the first and second stage was the shortest on record (since 2004).
Mild weather this week, culminating with highs near 70 on Friday, has a reasonably good chance to advance the buds to stage 4, “peduncle elongation.”
The bloom cycle is then likely to slow between Saturday and Monday, with predicted high temperatures in the 40s and 50s.
But, by Tuesday next week, mild weather returns with highs in at least in the 60s through Friday (March 19), possibly flirting with 70 on some days. This warmth may push the blossoms into their penultimate stage, “puffy white,” when the flowers are starting to emerge. Typically, peak bloom, the sixth and final stage, occurs a few days later.
Forecast temperatures starting around March 20 become more uncertain, so there’s an outside chance that the bloom process slows if it turns cooler. Alternatively, if temperatures over the next 10 days end up higher than forecast, peak bloom could occur a little before March 20. This would be before the National Cherry Blossom Festival, set for March 20 to April 12.
But even if peak bloom occurs before March 20, blossoms can remain on the trees for a week or so, if it’s warm and dry and winds are light.
The National Park Service’s peak bloom forecast is March 27 to 30, but we expect that it will soon revise this prediction and move the dates up.