The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Washington sets daily record high temperature of 81 degrees

Thursday’s 150-year-old record was smashed. A record warm start to the year has pushed Tidal Basin cherry blossoms to the green bud stage.

Observed temperatures at 3 p.m. on Feb. 23. (WeatherBell)
4 min

It’s official: Thursday is Washington’s warmest Feb. 23 on record and one of the toastiest afternoons so early in the year.

The high temperature at Reagan National Airport hit 81 degrees, breaking the previous record of 78 degrees set on Feb. 23, 1874. That’s a few ticks below Washington’s record high temperature for all of February, which was 84 degrees on Feb. 25, 1930.

Wild weather pattern brings record warmth — and cold — across the country

Record high temperatures for the date were also set at Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. The high was 80 degrees at Dulles, surpassing the previous record of 77 degrees on Feb. 23, 2017. At BWI, Thursday’s high temperature made it to 79 degrees, surpassing the previous record of 78 degrees on Feb. 23, 1874.

It is the second-earliest day of the year that D.C. has eclipsed 80 degrees. It’s only the fourth time the city has reached 80 degrees or higher in February. The earliest occurred on Feb. 21, 2018.

Through Wednesday, this is also Washington’s warmest start to the year on record, with an average temperature of 45.5 degrees during the period from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22. The record warmth of Thursday and the persistent warmth of 2023 has bumped the start of spring up by several weeks compared to average. Tree pollen has been high at times for three weeks, and plant life is waking up not only in the city but across the region.

According to the National Park Service, the green bud stage is underway on the Tidal Basin’s famed cherry trees. It is the first of six stages culminating in peak bloom. This is the earliest the trees have reached the green bud stage since 2008 when it happened on Feb. 19. That year, peak bloom arrived March 26.

The main Yoshino cherry tree type on and around the National Mall reached green bud 10 days after the so-called “indicator tree” did on Feb. 13. As its name implies, the indicator tree is a leading signal of when stage changes can be expected along the winding pathway of the Tidal Basin. It typically reaches any given stage 7 to 10 days before the rest.

From green bud to peak bloom is usually a three-to-four-week process. An earlier-than-normal peak is close to a guarantee, with the start of this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival scheduled for March 20.

Thursday also marked the second record high for D.C. this year; the first happened on Jan. 3 when Reagan National Airport reached a high of 69 degrees, breaking the previous Jan. 3 record of 68 degrees in 2000 and 2004. It is also the fourth record high this year at Dulles and the second at BWI.

In 2022, record warm temperatures outpaced record cold ones by seven to two in Washington.

Records were a bit in question early Thursday as temperatures got off to a slow start thanks to clouds and cooler air that lingered in place longer than expected.

Once skies cleared from the late morning into early afternoon, temperatures jumped rapidly at Dulles, rising 23 degrees in three hours (from 52 degrees at 10 a.m. to 75 degrees at 1 p.m.). At BWI, the temperature climbed 24 degrees in three hours (from 53 degrees at 11 a.m. to 77 degrees at 2 p.m.).

Major storm encases northern U.S. in snow and ice

It took a bit longer for Reagan National to shake off the chill from a breeze off the Potomac River. But there, too, temperatures eventually jumped 23 degrees in three hours (from 58 degrees at noon to 81 degrees at 3 p.m.).

The extreme February warmth in the area is part of a larger group of as many as 85 record highs anticipated Thursday in the East ahead of a cold front. In the West, cold is the story. About 70 record low maximums were in play across the West Coast and Rockies.