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Unseasonably warm temperatures in the Northern Virginia area this spring have turned blooming dates upside down, and the beloved cherry blossoms are no exception.
Last year, students at George Mason University joined contestants from around the world to predict the peak bloom date of cherry trees at four global locations—Washington, D.C.; Kyoto, Japan; Liestal-Weideli, Switzerland; and Vancouver, BC, Canada. The international Cherry Blossom Prediction Competition was a huge success and is gaining traction during its second annual run.
The competition is organized by Mason statistics professors Jonathan Auerbach and David Kepplinger, and Elizabeth Wolkovich from the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia.
“We’re interested to see how the competition plays out this year,” Kepplinger says. “It’s a great way for our students to get involved in something that’s so interesting to many people. Who doesn’t love the cherry blossoms?”
Because of the warm temperatures this year, contestants predict the Washington cherry trees will reach peak bloom on March 28 on average, a week earlier than the historic average.
“If you have warm temperatures followed by a cold blast, it can really affect the bloom date,” Auerbach says. “Usually in the D.C. area, peak bloom occurs in early April. But some trees in the Tidal Basin and here at Mason Pond already show signs that flowering is imminent so we’ll have to see.”
Mason statistics students Sara Alhassani and D.J. Grant provided the closest predictions last year, and Auerbach sees many competitive entries from Mason students again this year. Contestants use a variety of measures like examining weather patterns, soil moisture, past bloom rates, and area rainfall to get the best estimate of peak bloom dates.
The 2022 peak bloom date in Washington was March 21, and the earliest peak bloom date on record is March 15, 1990.
Competition winners will be announced in May and are eligible for up to $5,000 in cash and prizes.