- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

Cold nighttime temperatures will delay the blooming of the Washington area’s famed cherry trees this week, as D.C. officials prepare for the 92nd annual Cherry Blossom Festival set to begin next weekend.

Organizers of the event said yesterday the trees will not bloom in time for Saturday’s opening ceremony because of the below-freezing overnight lows expected in the area last night and tonight.

The National Weather Service predicts temperatures will drop to 26 degrees tonight and 33 degrees tomorrow night.

“Temperatures must be above 40 degrees for several consecutive days and nights before anything happens,” said Diana M. Mayhew, the festival’s executive director. “The longer the cold weather lasts, the longer the buds will be dormant.”

But, Mrs. Mayhew said, the buds should begin opening up sometime within the next seven to 10 days, when overnight temperatures will be warmer. The trees should be in full bloom by the festival’s parade April 3.

Andrew B. Woodcock, a meteorologist for the Sterling, Va.-based National Weather Service, said the Washington area will be under a cold pattern for the next few days. Mr. Woodcock said yesterday’s temperatures — although hardly unseasonable — were 5 degrees cooler than normal this time of year.

Even though spring arrived Saturday, it didn’t bring with it much warmth.

Temperatures yesterday stayed in the mid-40s, and gusts measured at 47 mph throughout the day, the weather service said. Temperatures were expected to drop into the mid-20s last night.

Mrs. Mayhew said the Cherry Blossom Festival has been a springtime tradition in the District since 1912, when Tokyo presented the Washington area with 3,000 trees.

“People will not be disappointed this year,” Mrs. Mayhew said. “I’m sure we’ve had a festival or two without blossoms in the past 10 years, but it’s very rare.”

This year’s peak blooming period runs from Wednesday to April 4, according to the National Park Service Web site.

Many in the District said yesterday they couldn’t wait for the blossoms.

“It’s perfect museum weather today. Not too hot and not too cold,” said Anthony A. Shields, a guard who works at the Smithsonian Institution. “Now we just need the cherry blossoms.”

Others tried to stay warm. Some tourists walking on the Mall clutched at fluttering scarves as they posed for pictures in front of the Washington Monument and Capitol.

“At least the sun is out,” said Anna Ricklin, of Chaplain, Conn., who wore a parka with the hood pulled down over a stocking hat and a pair of sunglasses.

“I’m definitely not going to hang out in the cold all day,” she said as she sat on a bench and watched one of several soccer games that had formed in front of the Smithsonian Metro stop.

Local churchgoers marked the advent of spring by celebrating Laetare Sunday, a traditional Christian day of rejoicing before Easter.

“I’m trying not to think about tax day,” said Irma Powell, avoiding the wind at a parish coffee hour after Mass at St. Mary Mother of God Church in Northwest. “I’d rather think about the flowers.”

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