- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

The area’s signature sign of spring says the season has arrived, but the weather says otherwise.

The cherry blossoms came into full bloom this week just before a cold front swept in and brought the possibility of freezing temperatures and a snow flurry or two.

The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning last night for the metropolitan area and a freeze watch for tonight.

The Weather Service predicts daytime temperatures in the 40s and 50s until the middle of next week.

The region had seen springtime weather since the last week of March when temperatures broke into to the 70s and 80s during the day and stayed well above freezing at night.

Patrons of the Cherry Blossom Festival kickoff events last weekend basked under sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s. The Washington Nationals opened their season Monday under clear skies with highs in the 80s.

Then early Wednesday morning, the region was hit by thunderstorms caused by a cold front that had followed warm, moist air from the Gulf Coast. During that storm, there was a report of pea-sized hail in Fairfax County.

Scott Aker, gardens unit leader at the U.S. National Arboretum in Northeast, said the storm knocked many of the petals off the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin and said he even saw a bit of snow at the arboretum yesterday morning.

However, he said Kwanzan cherry trees, a less common type of tree around the Tidal Basin, likely will survive the cold snap because they bloom two weeks later than the more prevalent Yoshino and Akebono cherry trees.

Mr. Aker said he expects the weather to damage several types of plants and trees, including azaleas, tulips and peach trees.

“Dogwoods will be damaged at 26 or 27 degrees,” he said. “Magnolias are going to be toast, too.”

Mr. Aker said people should bring in tender plants or cover them with a sheet or opaque plastic.

Steve Rogowski at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., said the growing season came early this year.

He said that the average temperature this time of year is 62 degrees and the dip in temperatures — more suited to January — will balance out last week’s warm streak.

And like January, the cold can be troublesome for cars, too.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said car batteries that are more than three or four years old could cause problems in the morning.

“It will catch most motorists off-guard,” he said. “Our Emergency Roadside Assistance service crews are on standby in case of a spike in calls in wake of the cold snap.”

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