2021 Cherry Blossom Peak Bloom Forecasts

Posted on: December 31, 2020

Current Peak Bloom Predictions

National Park Service: April 2 - 5
Washington Post: March 30 - April 3
NBC4: April 4 - 9
 
The National Park Service will limit vehicular and pedestrian access to the area during the bloom and are prepared to close the area if crowds become too large.
 
DC will still be under COVID-19 restrictions in spring 2021 while the cherry blossoms are blooming. The Washington DC area is currently assessed at a very high risk level. So it’s shaping up to be a good year to follow along from afar from the safety and comfort of your home.
 

Cherry Blossom Peak Bloom Forecasts for 2021

The National Park Service issued their initial peak bloom prediction for the season on March 1. Their prediction is that the blossoms will reach peak bloom between April 2 and 5.
 
The Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang issued their prediction on March 5. They predict a peak bloom between March 30 and April 3.
 
NBC4 Storm Team4’s meteorologist Amelia Draper issued her prediction on March 10. She predicts that the peak bloom will come sometime between April 4 and 9, a little later than the other predictions.
 

Background

On average, DC’s cherry blossoms bloom around the last week of March into the first week of April. But it varies year to year based on weather conditions, so it can also be a little before or after that period. This page tracks the latest information on the coming bloom.
 
Warmer temperatures in the late winter into early spring bring the blossoms out earlier. Cooler temperatures push them later. The flowers generally last a week or two, but again, just how long they stay around depends on the weather.
 
So far this winter, the temperatures averaged a little above normal during December and January, which happens to track with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s long-range winter forecast. But February brought a long colder stretch that. So, for now, we’re tracking right around “normal” overall. And that, at this early stage, hints at a bloom that falls around the average of the last days of March into the first days of April. But it’s too soon to put any stock in that just yet–if we see a stretch of cold weather into March, it can push things much later, or a stretch of warm weather can still bring it much sooner.
 
March started cool but has warmed up considerably in the second week. But it won’t be enough to bring out a very early bloom like last year (when peak bloom was March 20).
 

Average Temperatures for Winter 2020-21

Here’s how we’re tracking so far relative to previous years:
 
 
And here’s how that looks in graph form. The red line represents the historical average. The blue line represents the corresponding daily averages for this winter. Data is taken from the National Weather Service’s recordings from National Airport, which is just across the Potomac from the Tidal Basin.1
 
 
And here’s a similar but yet slightly different way of looking at it. This shows more directly how far each day has departed from the historical average. The horizontal 0 line represents the historical average. Each vertical bar represents a day. A bar above the 0 line represents warmer than the historical average. A bar below the 0 line represents cooler than the historical average. As you can see, there are many more days above the average–and by a good margin–than there are below the average.
 

2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival

The parade is canceled for 2021, but the National Cherry Blossom Festival organizers are in the process of creating a safe and pandemic-appropriate schedule of events. The dates of the festival are March 20 to April 11, although it will look quite different from a pre-Covid festival schedule.
 
 

Questions?

Will It Be Possible to See the Cherry Blossoms In Person This Year?

If you’re considering planning a visit, there are some things to know.
 
Washington DC is still under COVID-19 restrictions, and the DC area is currently assessed at a very high risk level.
 
The Smithsonian museums and Washington Monument are all closed indefinitely. There are strict occupancy limits on restaurants and businesses. In-person events for the National Cherry Blossom Festival have been canceled (that includes the Parade).
 
On March 23, the National Park Service clarified their plans for the bloom. They put out a statement:
 
In accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and DC Health and in consultation with the National Park Service Office of Public Health, the National Park Service will limit all vehicular and pedestrian access to the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park and West Potomac Park during the peak bloom period of the cherry blossoms as a public health precaution to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
 
They’ve also said that if crowds become too large, they are prepared to close down the area and keep it closed until the end of the bloom.
 
All in all, it’s a good year to follow along from afar from the safety and comfort of your home.
 

Do I need a permit to take engagement photos at the cherry blossoms?

I mention this here because it is an issue that the NPS has addressed more explicitly recently. And they’ve done so in such a way that clears up any lingering confusion that the previous policy caused.
 
The short answer is that most engagement photo sessions do not require a permit. The key factor now isn’t whether it’s a commercial or non-commercial shoot but whether it’s “low-impact.” And nearly all engagement photo sessions fall within that category (i.e., fewer than five people, limited equipment, limited impact on the area or people around them, etc.). I have more details here.
 

How Long Do the Flowers Stay Out? What if I Miss Peak Bloom?

The day the cherry blossoms reach peak bloom is not, of course, the only day you can see the flowers. At a minimum, you can expect a beautiful sight for at least a few days before the peak bloom date and at least a few days after. Sometimes they can be out for a couple of weeks.
 
How long they remain out depends heavily on weather conditions. In ideal conditions (cool, dry, calm), there can still be flowers to see a week or even more after the peak bloom date. So there might be a period of two weeks or more when the flowers are looking beautiful. In less-than-ideal conditions (wet, windy, hot, stormy), the flowers disappear more quickly, perhaps a week or less. I’ve put together a timeline with photos from previous years to give an idea of what you can expect to see during the different stages of the bloom.
 
The crucial point is that you don’t have to be there precisely on that specific day to be greeted with a beautiful sight. There are still flowers to see in the days before and after that.
 
If you’re too early for the main cherry blossoms, your timing might be good for saucer magnolias (also called tulip magnolias). There’s a particularly beautiful collection of them in the garden behind the Smithsonian Castle, but there are plenty of others scattered around the city, including a small grove at the George Mason Memorial next to the Tidal Basin.
 
And if you’re too late for the Yoshino peak bloom by two or three weeks, you might be in luck for a different variety that is also very pretty: the Kwanzan cherry blossoms. Tulips are another spring highlight around the area, and you can find them at a number of places around the National Mall as well as further afield.
 

How to Get Updates on the 2020 Cherry Blossoms

There are several ways to keep up to date with Cherry Blossom Watch updates.
 
  • CherryBlossomWatch.com This website is Cherry Blossom Watch HQ. New updates post here first. They're also more detailed and include more current photos than the other options below. So be sure to bookmark and check back often. If you'd like to receive instant automatic notifications directly from the website when new updates are posted, take a look at the browser notification option below.
  • Instagram. Follow the dedicated Instagram feed at @cherryblossomwatch. The posts are usually shorter and less detailed, but they include freshly taken photos and post more quickly. (And, if you're interested, you can also follow my main travel photography account at @havecamerawilltraveldc.)
  • Facebook. Follow the Cherry Blossom Watch Facebook page. This is a good way to know when new updates are posted on the website, but because of the way Facebook's newsfeed algorithm works, there's no guarantee that every update will show up in your feed.
  • Browser Notifications. On desktop web browsers you can click on the red bell icon at the bottom right of the screen to sign up for push notifications. When new updates are posted you'll get a notification automatically right in your browser. Works in Chrome, Safari, and Firefox only, for now.
  • RSS. RSS feed

DC’s Cherry Blossoms in 2020

They reached peak bloom on March 20, 2020. That was an early bloom, but not the earliest on record.
 
It also coincided with the escalation of COVID-19 in the area, which dramatically curtailed the usual visiting and viewing season.
 
You can find the updates and photos from the 2020 bloom here.
 

Common Questions About the Cherry Blossom Peak Bloom Forecasts

Here are some answers to some of the common questions I get asked.
 

Do the Peak Bloom Predictions Change?

Yes. It’s common for them to be revised as we get closer to the bloom. Which is why it’s worth checking back to this page for the current forecasts or signing up to get updates using one of the methods described below.
 

How are the Peak Bloom Predictions Made?

There are three parts that go into the mix for making the NPS peak bloom predictions. The first is a mathematical model that basically assigns heat points for temperatures. Once the trees wake up from their winter dormancy, there are thresholds for a certain number of heat points to bring them to bloom.
 
The second is actually looking at the trees to see how they’re developing. Sometimes the mathematical model doesn’t match what they actually see on the trees, as happened in 2018 when the model predicted a much earlier bloom than ended up happening because the buds got stuck in the green bud stage for much longer than expected.
 
The third part, and the most unstable element of the whole thing, consists of weather forecasts looking weeks ahead. We all know only too well just how unreliable forecasts that far ahead can be, and that’s the main reason that the peak bloom predictions can change quite a lot and why the NPS horticulturists aren’t really comfortable with their predictions until about ten days out.
 

What Does “Peak Bloom” Mean and Why Is It a Date Range?

The peak bloom date is the day on which the NPS horticulturists judge that 70 percent of the Yoshino blossoms are out. There are a number of different varieties of cherry trees around and near the Tidal Basin, but the Yoshino variety is by far the most numerous and famous.
 
“Peak Bloom” is a specific day that the threshold is passed. So when a forecast expects peak bloom between such and such dates, it means that they expect the 70 percent threshold to be crossed one day during that range.
 
It does not mean that the flowers will be at peak bloom for that entire date range. It also does not mean that you have to be there only on that specific day to catch the spectacle. More on that below.
 
I have more detail in a separate post explaining the ins and outs of peak bloom.
 

How Accurate Are Peak Bloom Forecasts?

The NPS horticulturists are the first to point out that they’re not really confident in their prediction until about ten days out. And nature has a way of being unpredictable sometimes, as the 2017 bloom proved. There are so many variables that can come into play, especially since the prediction is based on long-range weather forecasts a month or more out.
 
Sometimes, the predictions nail it. Other times, Mother Nature has other plans, and it’s not at all unusual for the forecasts to be revised as we get closer to the date as the actual weather conditions diverge from the long-range weather forecast the peak bloom predictions initially relied on.
 
So the peak bloom forecasts are the best information we have to go on, but that doesn’t mean things always pan out as expected, and it’s quite common for the forecasts to change. So be sure to keep checking in for any updates. I keep the peak bloom forecasts page up to date with the latest information.
 

Are There Any Other Peak Bloom Forecasts?

The two to watch are the forecasts by the National Park Service and the Washington Post‘s Capital Weather Gang. Both typically issue their first forecasts for the season around the end of February or the beginning of March.
 
From time to time, there are some other forecasts issued that are worth noting, and I try to include them when possible.
 

What Month is Cherry Blossom Season in Washington DC?

The cherry blossoms in Washington DC usually bloom around the end of March into early April.
 

What Kind of Cherry Blossom Trees are in Washington DC?

There are about a dozen different kinds of cherry trees among the thousands around and near the Tidal Basin. The most famous and most numerous are Yoshino cherry trees.
 

Where Can I See the Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC?

While there are cherry trees scattered throughout the region, by far the most famous ones are centered around the Tidal Basin and the area near the National Mall. These are the ones you’ve probably seen in photos with famous monuments like the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument.
 
I’ve put together a detailed guide on how to get to the cherry blossoms as well as some suggestions for alternate (and less crowded) places to find cherry blossoms in and around DC.
 

2021 Cherry Blossom Ten Miler

COVID has forced some major changes to the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler this year. In the spring, there will be a virtual run. An in-person run is currently scheduled for September 12, 2021.
 
You can find details on these here.
 
 
 

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