Cold weather kills half of cherry blossoms in DC

WASHINGTON (AP) — Cold weather has killed half of the blossoms on Washington's famous cherry trees just as they were reaching peak bloom, park service officials said Friday.

The blooming of the trees is a big tourist draw and is closely watched as a sign of spring in the nation's capital — so much so that National Park Service officials held a news conference Friday to discuss the weather's impact.

Gay Vietzke, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said there will still be a "brilliant display of the white and pink blooms," and that the Yoshino cherry trees will be just as "spectacular as ever."

That said, visitors who come every year will notice a slight difference after the "wild weather roller coaster" of the past few weeks, which delivered snow after several warm days, Vietzke said.

"We do anticipate that there will be some fewer blossoms than normal and the color, therefore, may not be quite as dense as we've seen in past years around the Tidal Basin," Vietzke said, describing the area where the Yoshino cherry trees are clustered.

It wasn't the snow early in the week that really impacted the trees, but the cold. Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst had previously said that if the temperature got down to 24 degrees there could be a 90 percent loss of the blossoms that were expected to be at their peak between March 19 and 22.

Peak bloom is defined as the day when 70 percent of the Yoshino cherry trees around the Tidal Basin are blossoming. But that won't happen this year because half of those blossoms are already gone as a result of the cold.

National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Witt says area temperatures dropped to 26 on Tuesday, 22 on Wednesday and 24 on Thursday.

The cold weather did not do any long-term damage to the Yoshino trees, but Litterst said Friday that it killed blooms at the fifth of six stages of blooming — the so-called "puffy white" stage. Blooms in earlier stages survived, Litterst said, and should reach their own more modest peak sometime next weekend.

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Follow Jessica Gresko on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jessica-gresko.

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