WASHINGTON — — The ground has been frozen under layers of snow. Daffodils are just now breaking the surface. The elm trees are two weeks late in starting to flower.
And Washington's hallowed cherry blossoms?
A little banged up from the snowstorms and wind and hampered by a lingering chill in the soil, but apparently not too far off schedule.
The park service's horticulturalist and cherry tree expert, Rob DeFeo, issued his forecast Thursday for the peak bloom date. The trees are expected to bloom between March 31 and April 11, with the peak period expected to occur April 3-8.
The average peak bloom date is April 4, the park service said, but unusually warm or cool weather has resulted in peak bloom dates as early as March 15 - in 1990 - and as late as April 18 - in 1958.
This year's festival - which marks the 1912 gift to Washington of 3,000 cherry trees by the city of Tokyo - is set for March 27 through April 11.
The annual parade and Japanese street festival are scheduled for April 10.
The festival brings in about a million visitors a year.
Whenever it peaks, this year's bloom will be visually affected by two building projects: the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, where a tall construction fence has been erected amid the trees on the northwest rim of the Tidal Basin; and the Jefferson Memorial, where equipment to repair the sinking seawall on the south side of the basin is likely to mar the view for photographers.