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Planning a Trip to the Washington DC Cherry Blossoms Based on Averages and Guessing

March 17, 2018
6 min read
Planning a Trip to the Washington DC Cherry Blossoms Based on Averages and Guessing
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This is a guest post from my dad, Grandpa Points. He and my mom are in their late-60’s, are (mostly) retired,

and are ticking off “bucket list” destinations quicker than they ever thought possible thanks to miles, points, and travel deals. They have an intense love of this country, of its National Parks and treasures, and have no problem with a clean budget hotel room and an economy airline seat on a low-cost airline as long as it gets them where they want to be. A photographer by trade he often tells his story not just with his words, but with his images. Today he brings us a story from planning another one of their adventures…

We have heard about the Washington D.C. cherry blossoms for a long time. A few years ago, we decided that seeing them in bloom should be something we experience for ourselves. We initially targeted last year as "the year," but stuff happened, and we never finalized any plans. As it turned out, the very warm weather in the D.C. area last year resulted in a very early bloom, and a subsequent frost caused a significant diminishment in the floral quality and beauty. So, maybe everything worked out for the best.

Fast forward to January 2018. We decided again that this would be "the year." However, if you know anything about the D.C cherry blossoms, or the azaleas at The Masters, or the bluebonnets in Texas, then you know that trying to predict their bloom date and optimum viewing period is like picking the winning number on a roulette table. Except, instead of red and black, you have March and April, and instead of even and odd, you have cold fronts and warm fronts to consider. The "peak bloom" can occur anywhere in a historical window that covers about 21 days with the peak lasting for 3-7 of those days. And when you live 1500 miles away from our nation's capital and driving is not a practical option, travel plans and reservations need to be made way in advance of the arrival of spring and its colorful delights.

In early February, we did as much research as we could to assist us in picking our dates. The National Park Service and The Cherry Blossom Festival sites offer helpful info as to dates that the sequential stages of blooming occurred through the years. We used these facts to establish an average date that the trees have been at their blooming best. We put our money down on April 4, 5, 6 and 7 and hoped the roulette wheel would be kind to our picks.

The NPS has an annual "peak bloom" projection that it releases on March 1st. This projection is based on the growth activity of the trees, the extended weather forecast and the experience of the experts on the staff. We waited anxiously for this prediction, hoping that our chosen dates would be winners. WRONG!! The NPS analysis for the year 2018 indicated March 17-20 would be the best time to see the cherry blossoms at their finest.

A second established group, The Washington Post "Capitol Gang," pegged March 24 as their best bet. Either way, either date, spelled trouble for our team as our chosen dates were as much as two weeks too late given these two scenarios.

The NPS does offer the caveat that the dates it projects are "best guess" and that reliable estimates can best be made only 10 days prior to full bloom.

For a couple of days, we were somewhat at a loss. Do we just go as planned and hope, or do we alter our trip and hope? We decided to change our itinerary because we felt it was important enough to us to try and do it right and get it right. But, what dates would be right? We studied the situation with the progress of the buds, and we looked at the two-week weather forecast. It indicated that the D.C. area would have below normal temperatures for about 15 straight days. This suggested to us that the "peak bloom" might not come as early as the NPS anticipated. So, we implemented our version of advanced analytics and took our non-experienced, never been there before what-do-we-know-hunch and bet the NPS was wrong. We chose March 27-30, 2018, as our new best calendar friends.

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We re-booked our hotel and paid the change fees that Spirit Airlines required to make alterations to our original flight plans. The change fees were less than the purchase of new tickets, and it was just what we had to do considering the circumstances.

Every day or two we would recheck the NPS Bloom Watch page for updates, and we would monitor the temps in D.C. The NPS site didn't change and the weather stayed cool. The buds on the trees had reached their first stage of monitoring on February 25th, and went into a holding pattern for one week, then two weeks.

The longer this suspended animation continued for the bud development, the better we felt that the "peak bloom" forecast might be moved back toward our visitation days. I must confess that we were getting a little anxious as day after day the NPS held fast to their original prediction.

And then....yesterday afternoon, the NPS site finally changed to reflect a shift in its outlook for when the trees will be most beautiful. The new dates are March 27-31st.

Eureka, the roulette ball landed on our numbers! Maybe. Hopefully. Possibly.

Now we will root for warmer D.C. weather, beautiful sunshine, proper and timely bud development, and a Tidal Basin surrounded and lined with the greatest display of cherry blossoms that old timers can ever remember. We want the whole Shock and Awe treatment. That's not asking for too much, is it?

NPS Photo

Stay tuned.