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Potential Frost in DC Could Hurt Cherry Blossom Peak

Washington, D.C.'s annual Cherry Blossom Festival kicked off its 2013 celebration on March 20. In 1912, Japan gifted the United States with thousands of cherry trees which were then planted along the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. The yearly festival is a tradition to celebrate and honor the relationship between Japan and the U.S. and has come to span the course of several weeks. This year, it will end on April 14.

The time frame is established to accommodate the unpredictable nature of the blossoms. The "blooming period" starts when 20 percent of the trees have open buds and ends when the petals fall off. During the blooming period, a "peak bloom" will occur, the time when at least 70 percent of the cherry blossoms have opened. The blooming period typically lasts about 14 days, so events and festivities are planned to keep the crowds entertained at the various stages of blooming. This allows people to make travel arrangements ahead of time and still have events to participate in without having to try to time exactly when peak bloom will begin, as that date is hard to pinpoint more than a few days in advance.

The start date for peak bloom averages around April 4. This year, they are expecting it to take place sometime between April 3 and 6, but many trees have already started to blossom. While you may not make the "peak" when you visit, you're still sure to see beautiful trees at some level of bloom.

You'll also have a number of events to choose from, including photography classes, Japanese art exhibits, cruises through the Tidal Basin, parades, bike tours and dinners.

How long the blooming period lasts depends largely on the weather. Last year, when March had an incredibly unusual warm spell, the blooming period only lasted nine days, compared to 14 days the year before. Peak bloom began on March 20, the earliest date in over 10 years. The entire blooming season then ended only six days later. In 2011, the blooming period lasted another nine days after the peak.

This year, the trees may face some trouble with lower temperatures forecast for a few days over the next couple of weeks.

"The temperatures will be up and down for a while," said Meteorologist Dale Mohler.

Mohler expects the temperatures to stay several degrees below normal for the rest of the week, mainly in the high 40s to low 50s. The average for this time of year is 59 degrees. Temperatures will begin to moderate for Easter weekend. Monday will have the best chance of being at or over normal temperature, possibly rising into the low 60s. Then by Tuesday night, temperatures will begin to lower again. Mohler warns that there may be chances for overnight frosts and freezes through Friday of this week and again during the middle of next week. If that happens, the blooming period may be cut short.

For more information on the Cherry Blossom Festival, visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival website.