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Cherry blossoms hit third stage in near-record time. It may affect peak bloom.

The blossom buds have reached the ‘extension of florets’ stage, but cooler weather should slow their progress

Pink florets are seen on the cherry trees at the Tidal Basin on Sunday. (Jeannie in D.C.)
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The unseasonably mild January, February and start to March has the cherry blossom buds at the Tidal Basin progressing at near-record haste.

On Tuesday, the National Park Service declared the blossoms reached Stage 3 out of 6, known as “extension of florets.” At this stage, the buds encasing the flowers begin to expand. March 7 marks the second-earliest date the buds have reached this stage since records began in 2004.

Only 2017 saw the buds reach Stage 3 earlier — and by a day.

Capital Weather Gang’s peak bloom prediction of March 25 to 29 may be too late and require adjustment, considering the speed at which the buds have reached Stage 3 this year.

Typically, the blossoms reach peak bloom one to two weeks after Stage 3. That said, cold weather can slow the process and probably will this year to some extent.

The cold had a particularly dramatic impact on the buds in 2017. That year, after hitting Stage 3 on March 6, they didn’t reach peak bloom until March 25. When the buds were approaching their penultimate stage — known as puffy white — freezing temperatures and snow midmonth abruptly halted the bloom cycle and killed almost half the blossoms.

This year, cold weather will also probably slow bud progression but not to the same degree; a killer freeze doesn’t appear likely. Whereas low temperatures dipped into the low 20s in the 2017, models project lows mostly in the low to mid-30s over the next one to two weeks. That said, forecasts more than five to seven days into the future could change.

For damage to occur to the blossoms, temperatures need to drop below 28 degrees for several hours and the buds need to have reached Stage 4 or 5, when they are most vulnerable to the elements.

Just as a damaging freeze seems improbable, very warm weather — highs in the 60s or warmer — which would cause the buds to accelerate and reach peak bloom at the record early date of March 15, is also unlikely. For the next one to two weeks, predicted highs are mostly in the 40s and 50s.

As such, we wouldn’t expect peak bloom for at least 10 days to two weeks, and possibly longer. Still, it’s becoming likely our initial peak bloom forecast of March 25 to 29 is too late, as predicted temperatures are no longer as cold as they once were.

Once the buds reach Stage 4 — known as peduncle elongation — we’ll revise our peak bloom forecast if needed.