The National Park Service inspected the Japanese flowering cherry trees around the Tidal Basin Wednesday morning in the wake of bitter overnight temperatures.
Horticulturalists found widespread damage in blossoms that had reached “puffy white,” the fifth of six stages in the bloom cycle.
They have taken cuttings of branches containing blossoms at earlier stages and will force them open over the next 24-48 hours to determine what, if any, damage may have occurred in those blossoms.
Because the blossoms are so close to peak bloom and are exposed, they are particularly vulnerable to cold temperatures right now.
Cherry blossoms start to sustain damage when temperatures hit 27 degrees; at 24 degrees, up to 90 percent of exposed blossoms can be affected. Temperatures hit the critical 27-degree mark just before midnight Tuesday night, and remained below that level as of 10 a.m. Wednesday morning. There was a five-hour stretch at or below 24 degrees.
The peak bloom of the Yoshino variety of cherry trees is still expected to occur within the projected March 19-22 window. However, the number of cherry trees that reach the blossom stage may be reduced as a result of the cold temperatures.
Additional varieties of trees, including the Kwanzans (the second most abundant species around the Tidal Basin and in East Potomac Park) bloom later. Those buds are protected from the current cold temperatures. The Kwanzan trees are projected to bloom April 10-13.
Temperatures are forecast to be in the low 20s again for the next two nights.