While much of central and eastern North America is still locked in a deep freeze, the warmth cascading across the Pacific Northwest in recent weeks has sparked the early flowering of sakura blossoms in the region.
"Our recent warm, sunny temperatures above 10 C [50 F] has brought some of our earlier cultivars, Whitcomb and Accolade, into flower some three weeks ahead of schedule," Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Executive Director Linda Poole said.
Temperatures in Vancouver have been nearly 3.3 C (7 F) above normal for February and around 3.1 C (6 F) above normal for the month in Seattle.
"A large ridge of high pressure along the West Coast has kept all polar and arctic air well to the east of the Northwest," AccuWeather.com Western Weather Expert Ken Clark said. "This has brought some incredibly warm temperatures this month of February."
According to Poole, February and March are unpredictable for gauging the flowering of the cherry blossoms, but she said she is awaiting how the weather will unfold before updating the ninth annual festival's Neighborhood Maps, which allow users to track to blossoms through the Vancouver area.
"The flowering plum, which usually ushers in our cherries mid-March, are out in full bloom now," she said. "So everyone's getting quite excited here, predicting an early spring bloom."
The original 500 cherry trees gracing the Vancouver area were given as gifts to the city from Yokohama and Kobe in the 1930s, Poole added.
According to the festival's website, the street tree population has increased to over 130,000 since that time. Even though the early bloom might be impacted for some species, plenty of blossoms can be expected for the festival, which showcases a diverse range of community events in early April.
"With 54 different cultivars of flowering cherries, we're sure to have blossoms," she said.
If the warmth persists, only minor changes will be made to the festivals programming, Poole said.
"The only programming that we may alter the days, if the later varieties like Akebono and Kwanzan should bloom much earlier than normal, are Tree Talks & Walks and Bike the Blossoms," she said.
"We will celebrate our events as scheduled on April 2, knowing it may be 'petals falling' for our kick off with Cherry Jam Downtown."
For those who can't attend the festival in person, U.S. participation in the festival's international Haiku Invitational is welcome among poets who would like to submit their work before June 1, Poole added.