WASHINGTON – With temperatures still flirting around freezing, it is not a big surprise that the capital’s famous cherry blossoms will be late to the party this year.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival will run March 20 to April 12. The National Park Service predicted Tuesday that the blossoms’ peak bloom will be April 11 to 14.
Karen Cucurullo, acting superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, was presented with a square, faint pink envelope as she stood against a hot pink background at a press conference at the Newseum. The disappointing dates were inside.
Murmurs in the audience indicated its longing for spring, but February was one of the coldest months on record.
“I think there have only been four or five later dates in history,” said Michael Stachowicz, a horticulturalist for the National Park Service, who gave Cucurullo the envelope.
Stachowicz is one member of the cherry blossom team. While a tree crew takes care of everything from watering and mulching to wound repair, the blooming prediction is up to Stachowicz. Once the trees go dormant, he begins tracking data.
“The prediction is pretty scientific and pretty well-based,” Stachowicz said. “The hard part about the prediction is weather. March is a really big impact month.”
And March isn’t off to a good start. The Tidal Basin, which is surrounded by cherry blossom trees, remains frozen.
The festival dates to 1912 and commemorates the gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees from Japan. Kenichiro Sasae, the Japanese ambassador to the U.S., donned a pink tie with black diagonal stripes for the press conference.
“I can finally bring clothes out of my cherry blossom closet,” Sasae said with a laugh.
Music, artwork and community programs make up the festival’s schedule, along with a pair of new events. The Anacostia River Festival will bring activities to the water, and Blossoms and Baseball invites all to Nationals Park for an exhibition game against the Yankees on April 4. A portion of ticket proceeds will go to the festival. Sasae will toss the first pitch.
“I’ve been practicing every day to save myself from embarrassment,” he said. “There’s a website of the top 10 worst first pitches and I don’t want to be on it.”
Event organizers expect more than 1.5 million people to attend the festival with or without the weather’s cooperation. Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Park Service, is confident the cherry blossoms will bloom just in time for the parade on April 11.
“If we’re at peak when the parade’s going on then we’re in good shape,” he said.
Reach reporter Joe Mussatto at [email protected] or 202-408-1493. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.