WASHINGTON – With a foolproof formula and a cherry-blossom tie,the National Park Service's Chief Horticulturist Rob DeFeo confidently marched to the podium Thursday and the room fell silent.
Cameras flashed and pens raced across the page as DeFeo explained how he plugged several variables into the linear equation (y = ax + b) to predict the capital's famous cherry trees will bloom at exactly 10:46 a.m. March 30.
He was only kidding.
After 15 years of predicting the date on which hundreds of thousands of tourists plan their spring vacation,DeFeo has developed a sense of humor about the proclamation heard round the District of Columbia. The press conference,at a hotel overlooking the Tidal Basin,featured pink sushi and pink cherry blossom cookies.
This year's prediction: somewhere between March 27 and April 1 the 3,700 trees surrounding the Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin will be in the final of five bloom stages.
Since first manning the cherry-blossom post,DeFeo has botched just two predictions – 1990 and 2000 when the blooms peaked in mid-March. The earliest bloom recorded was March 15 – better known as DeFeo's 1990 miscalculation – while the latest bloom was April 18,1958.
But DeFeo has found a way to relieve the pressure he once felt as a budding horticulturist.
“I only say what I know,” he joked. “Anyone can go to the NPS Web site and make a prediction.”
The cherry blossom celebration dates to 1912 when the Japanese gave more than 3,000 trees to the capital,and the festivities have continued to grow through the years. The prediction used to be made days in advance,but intense preparation has forced the horticulturist to guess weeks in advance.
While correctly predicting this early is virtually impossible,DeFeo is “confident” the recent spike in temperature should make the “peak bloom date” – the day when 70 percent of the blossoms on the Yoshino Cherry trees are open – a week earlier than the average dates of April 4 to April 9.
The 94th National Cherry Blossom Festival begins March 25,but will be highlighted April 8 with the Festival Parade. The peak bloom date could occur nearly a week before the parade,but DeFeo said the blooms should still be visible because they can last up to 14 days.
Sue Porter,board president of the National Cherry Blossom Foundation,was on hand to outline the list of events,which will start with the Family Day and Opening Ceremony March 25 at the National Building Museum.
The parade will be led down Constitution Avenue by “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajack,who is from nearby Maryland. “American Idol” finalist Anthony Fedorov is scheduled to perform. In addition to the parade,the 45th Annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival will be held at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue,displaying various aspects of traditional Japanese culture.
Rebecca Pawlowski,media relations manager for the D.C. convention and tourism operation,said more than a million people will be in the area for the festival. More than a third of those attending are from outside the region,and hotel occupancy could reach 84 percent – hotel occupancy is normally 72 percent.
Visitors can reach the Tidal Basin by taking Metro's Blue or Orange line to the Smithsonian or L'Enfant Plaza subway stations.
For more information about the festival,go to: http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org