Officials with the U.S. National Park Service say cold weather has destroyed half of Washington’s cherry blossoms, a display that normally draws more than a million tourists to the capital.
Gay Vietzke, the superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said the damage occurred because of a “wild weather roller coaster” in Washington over the past few weeks.
First, record-breaking high temperatures in February — warmth that felt more like April than the second-coldest month of the year — gave the Japanese cherry trees an early start on their blooming cycle. Then a late-winter storm brought snow and freezing temperatures to the nation’s capital just as the peak display of blossoms was about to begin.
Washington’s cherry blossoms are so popular, and a magnet for visitors, that National Park Service officials discussed the situation at a news conference Friday.
“We do anticipate that there will be fewer blossoms than normal, and the color therefore may not be quite as dense as we’ve seen in past years,” Vietzke said.
Park officials say the drop in temperature to -5 degrees Celsius this past week killed virtually all of the blossoms that were in late stages of the bloom cycle. Buds that had not opened into full bloom survived.
The cold weather did not do any long-term damage to the trees, NPS experts said. Whatever blossoms survived the frost likely will reach their peak color and display around March 25-26, later than was initially forecast.
Diana Mayhew, president of the four-week National Cherry Blossom Festival, told reporters the festival would take place as scheduled, starting with the opening of a welcome area and stage Saturday.
Nearly 1,700 cherry trees line the U.S. capital’s Tidal Basin, a scenic spot near many national monuments, and their blossoms in pastel pink are anticipated as a sign of spring.
About 3,000 of the cherry trees (they flower, but do not bear fruit) can be seen around the city and have been drawing crowds since Japan donated them to the United States in 1912 to honor the two countries’ friendship.