Jeffrey Reinbold, National Park Service Superintendent for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, speaks before announcing the peak bloom for the cherry blossoms during a news conference in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s cherry blossom season again, and officials in the nation’s capital are predicting a banner year for the signature pink blooms. To herald the iconic blossoms, the nation’s capital has prepared several weeks of events, including a parade, concerts and fireworks for both locals and visitors who flood the city annually for the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Based on hotel reservation numbers, organizers are expecting the number of tourists to reach 1.5 million for the first time since before the pandemic.

Here’s a primer on Washington’s iconic flowering trees.

When will the cherry trees reach peak bloom?

National Park Service officials estimate that peak bloom will begin between March 23 and March 26 and run for about 10 days. That’s when 70% of the city’s 3,700 cherry trees will be flowering. The overall cherry blossom season will run from March 20 through April 14.

Where are the best places to see the trees?

The capital’s highest concentration of cherry trees is around the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial, a short walk from the National Mall. However, cherry blossoms are scattered throughout the capital city’s neighborhoods.

Officials recommend that people take public transportation because parking is at a minimum.

What events are planned?

Cherry blossom time is regarded locally as the unofficial start of Washington’s tourist season, and organizers have planned a host of events. Area restaurants also traditionally roll out various cherry blossom-flavored specialties from martinis to milkshakes.

The full list is events available on the Cherry Blossom Festival website. Some highlights include:

—The Blossom Kite Festival around the Washington Monument on March 30.

—The Cherry Blossom Parade on April 13.

—The Petalpalooza music and arts festival at the Capital Riverfront on April 6, with fireworks at 8:30 p.m.

How did Washington get its cherry trees?

The tradition dates back to 1912, when the mayor of Tokyo gifted Washington with 3,000 trees. The Japanese Embassy remains heavily involved in the annual festival and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will make an official visit to Washington this year during the festival on April 10.

Why are the cherry trees blooming earlier than in the past?

Officials point to climate change and say the impact may be accelerating. Steadily rising global temperatures have resulted in peak bloom creeping a little earlier each year. In 2013, the peak bloom was on April 9, about two weeks later than the current date.

Jeff Reinbold, the superintendent of the National Mall and memorial parks for the National Park Service, said a hotter-than-usual January essentially confused the trees and prevented them from entering their normal and necessary winter dormant period.

“This has been a puzzling year to read the trees,” he said. “We are seeing the effects of both warmer and highly variable temperatures on the trees.”

Officials have also warned that the hundreds of trees around the Tidal Basin are under threat from creeping floodwaters due to rising sea levels.

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