WASHINGTON (AP) - A mild winter could mean the earliest bloom on record for Washington's famous cherry trees, officials announced Wednesday.
National Mall and Memorial Parks Superintendent Gay Vietzke said Wednesday that the peak bloom is expected between March 14 and March 17. The National Park Service says the earliest recorded peak bloom for the trees is March 15.
Michael Stachowicz is the National Park Service horticulturalist who ultimately makes the call. Simply put, he takes the date the cherry trees go dormant, counts the number of warm days, and picks a couple of days he thinks 70% of the trees will be in bloom.
He says he's usually pretty close, "I've always been within a couple of days. so it's definitely going to be early this year, that I can tell you."
Chris Anderson of Sperryville says he and his sister visit for the peak every year and this year will be no exception, "We've always loved the trees, loved the flowers, we live in a rural area, so we're used to flowers and trees, but nothing compares to the blossoms here."
Peak bloom is defined as the day when 70 percent of the Yoshino cherry trees around the city's Tidal Basin are blossoming. Once peak bloom is reached, the blossoms can remain on the trees from four to 10 days.
Vietzke says the bloom is "very early" but not unheard of. Records dating to 1921 show the earliest recorded peak bloom was 1990, when it came on March 15. A cold winter means the trees are dormant longer, Vietzke said, but mild weather has meant the earlier development of the buds. Already, trees in the city are flowering.
"Spring is springing. Flowering trees are starting to do their thing," Vietzke said.
The National Park Service plans to update its website daily with the progress of the blooms. Last year's peak bloom happened March 25. On average, however, peak bloom has come in early April. Peak bloom has come as late as April 18 in 1958.
The original approximately 3,000 cherry trees were a gift from Japan in 1912. Only a handful of the original trees remain.
Because of the early bloom, organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival , which is timed to coincide with the blooming, have moved the festival's start day five days earlier. It will now be held from March 15 to April 16.
© 2017 Associated Press