“This year the National Park Service and our cherry blossom partners are asking everyone to experience peak bloom virtually,” said Jeff Reinbold, Park Service superintendent for the Mall at an online news conference on Monday, organized by the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
But a citywide celebration of the blossoms is still planned through the blossom festival, which spans March 20 and April 11 and will feature a mix of virtual and in-person events.
“As the health and safety of everyone is our top priority, the festival will present innovative, entertaining and engaging hybrid programming,” said Diana Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival at the news conference.
Events planned include a kite fly, petal processions in D.C. neighborhoods, a virtual pet parade, a nationally syndicated television program hosted by Drew Barrymore, and art showcases at schools and throughout the city.
The festival also involves a big push for locals and visitors to support local restaurants and businesses. Over 170 restaurants in the region will offer cherry blossom food and drink specials.
The blossoms have historically drawn about 1.5 million visitors to the Tidal Basin. The festival, which was canceled last year due to the pandemic, is a major contributor to the city’s tourism revenue which took a big hit in 2020. Between mid-March and December 2020, visitor spending was down nearly $5 billion, said Elliott Ferguson, the president of Destination DC, at Monday’s news conference.
While the Park Service is telling people to stay away from the Tidal Basin when the blossoms peak, Reinbold and others at the news conference encouraged tracking their progress online via the BloomCam, which will offer 24/7 views of the cherry trees from different locations. Last year, the BloomCam was viewed more than 750,000 times in 160 countries, Reinbold said.
Despite all of the online views, droves of visitors packed the Tidal Basin as the pandemic was beginning even as Park Service officials and police attempted to block access and told people to stay away.
“We want to make sure we don’t have a repeat of last year: We do not want large crowds down at the site,” Reinbold said. He added that the Park Service will explore whether to offer limited in-person visits at certain times of the day or whether it’s most prudent to close down the Tidal Basin entirely.
Synonymous with springtime in Washington, the blossoms have historically peaked around late March and early April.
The entire bloom period typically begins in late February or early March and involves the blossoms’ buds advancing through five stages before the flowers peak. Peak bloom itself usually lasts about seven to 10 days.
As of last Friday, the blossoms hadn’t even reached the initial “green bud” stage, wrote Leslie Frattaroli, a program manager for the Park Service, in an email.
Since records began in 1921, the average peak bloom date has advanced about five days earlier in the spring, as March temperatures have warmed. Although the most recent 30-year-average date of peak bloom is March 31, the average peak bloom date from 1921 to 1950 was April 4.
The earliest peak bloom on record was logged March 15, 1990, while the latest was April 18, 1958.
In 2020, the blossoms peaked on March 20, tied for the third-earliest date on record.
The peak bloom period is heavily dependent on weather during March and, in past years, revisions to the predicted dates have been made due to warm spells and cold snaps.
Capital Weather Gang will issue its own peak bloom outlook for the blossoms this week.
Clarification: The story initially stated the cherry blossom tourism was responsible for $5 billion in city revenue. Destination DC sent a note clarifying that the $5 billion dollar figure referred to the decline in visitor spending from mid-March to December 2020, only part of which was related to cherry blossom tourism. The story has been updated.