March 19th, 2012 by
Cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C.

Cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. Credit: American Forests

Tomorrow’s Spring Equinox officially marks the beginning of a new season, but for many parts of the country, it felt like spring arrived weeks ago. The tree outside my window is already in full bloom, and the gorgeous magnolia I pass on my way to work each morning is already losing its blooms — that’s how warm it’s been in the D.C. area this month. And according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Spring Outlook report, the warm weather is here to stay. Above average temperatures are expected in the Southwest, Great Plains, Great Lakes and East. In a double-edged sword, these warmer temperatures will combine with drier-than-average conditions for many parts of the U.S., which reduces the risk of flooding, but also will extend many areas’ long-running drought conditions.

Here in D.C., the earlier, warmer spring has also had another consequence: It’s messing with the peak bloom of our iconic cherry blossoms — and on their 100th birthday no less! Being highly susceptible to weather patterns that determine when they bloom, this month’s unseasonably warm weather means that the cherry blossoms are already blooming, weeks ahead of schedule. In fact, the National Park Service has amended the forecast for the peak-bloom period multiple times, and now, this week is when the blooms will be at their best — the first week in a six-week festival. With the early bloom, any travelers hoping to see the iconic trees in all their glory in mid-April will be out of luck. And this year’s early bloom might just be an indicator of things to come.

Last fall, the University of Washington published a report stating that the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms were “ideal indicators of the impacts of climate change.” According to their models and research, they estimate that in 40 years, the average bloom period for the blossoms will be two weeks earlier than it is now; in 70 years, it’ll be a full month. So while the calendar may claim that spring begins in mid-March, it looks like climate change might have other plans in store for Mother Nature.