Mar 17, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Cherry blossoms hitting earlier peaks due to climate change, scientists warn

 The Washington Memorial lifts above blooming Cherry trees near the tidal basin in Washington, DC, on March 17, 2024. Washington's cherry blossoms marked the second-earliest peak bloom in more than a century of records.

The Washington Memorial behind blooming cherry trees near the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., on Sunday. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., tied for their second-earliest peak bloom record on Sunday following some warm final days of winter that have seen temperatures reach the 70s, per the National Park Service.

Why it matters: Research shows cherry trees are blossoming earlier in D.C. and Japan due to climate change, and new data indicates that spring is getting warmer on average in the District of Columbia and nationwide.

What we're watching: Cherry trees blossoming early makes them vulnerable to any quick cold snap, which can still occur at this time of year, even if temperatures have been warmer overall.

  • "Approximately half of the Yoshino blossoms were lost due to a late frost that occurred March 14-16, 2017," per a statement by the National Park Service in analysis of the trees' peak bloom trends.

Between the lines: Climate Central analysis of National Weather Service data out last week shows the average spring temperature in D.C. has increased 3.6 degrees from 1970 to 2023.

  • And while spring is warming, the season is also coming in sooner at the winter margin.
  • This trend is also happening in Japan, where meteorologists forecast the national flower would peak bloom on March 25 — the earliest date on record.

What they're saying: Across Japan, "since 1953, the average start date for the sakura to bloom has become earlier, at a pace of 1.2 days every 10 years," said Daisuke Sasano, a climate risk management officer at the Japan Meteorological Agency, in an online briefing referring to the Japanese word for the tree's flowering.

  • This is due to the long-term effects of global warming, according to Sasano, who spoke in Japanese via an English translator during last Tuesday's briefing.
  • Sasano said if increasing temperatures continued to cause earlier blooms or shorter blossom phases it could "impact tourist destinations where the flowers are considered as important resources."

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