Cold May Kill DC's Cherry Blossoms; Festival Start Date Pushed Back

The blossoms are in danger when temperatures drop to 27 degrees or colder

Washington's famous cherry blossoms were encased in ice after snowfall late Monday and early Tuesday -- but low temperatures expected over the next few days will be more dangerous for the blooms.

The storm that covered Washington with more than 2 inches of snow left many of the famous cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin strikingly coated in ice. Some brown spots are visible on the flowers.

More troublesome, though, is that temperatures are expected to drop below "the critical 27 degree mark" at which the blossoms die, National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said.

"Our big concern is the overnight temperatures for the next three nights, which are expected to drop below 27 degrees," he said.

Storm Team4 is forecasting lows of as cold as 23 degrees.

Temperatures below 27 degrees kill about 10 percent of the blossoms, as News4 previously reported. At 24 degrees or colder, about 90 percent of the pink petals die.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is still on, but the opening date of the welcome area and ANA Performance Stage has been pushed back from Wednesday to Saturday, organizers announced Tuesday morning. Organizers cited "setup delays caused by the storm."

A major nor'easter is expected to sweep up the East Coast, bringing with it snow, cold temperatures and high winds. That could be dangerous for Washington's beloved cherry blossoms.

The closer the trees are to being in bloom, the more at risk of damage the blossoms are, Litterst said. If the blossoms are still tight in buds, they're "hopefully" still protected. The cold may damage the flowers, but the trees themselves are expected to be fine. 

If you see a cherry blossom tree covered in ice, leave it alone. Shaking the branches to try to clear the snow and ice can cause damage, the National Park Service says.

Officials will leave the trees alone, too. 

"Our policy is just to let nature take it's course," Litterst said. 

D.C’s beloved cherry blossoms started blooming early this year due to the warm winter — but now the region is dealing with a cold spell and possibly snow, putting the blooms in jeopardy. News4’s Megan Fitzgerald reports.

Cherry blossom watch is on.

"We'll know more over the next couple days," the park service spokesman said.

Stay with News4 for more details on this developing story.

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