Although the calendar says it's winter, the Washington area weather feels more like spring. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that D.C.'s 100th anniversary cherry blossom bloom is expected to come early this year.
"My forecast [for the peak bloom] is sometime between March 24 and March 31," National Park Service’s chief horticulturist Rob DeFeo said at a packed — and very pink — news conference Thursday morning.
The centennial celebration kicks off on March 20 and runs until April 27.
So let the scramble begin. Thousands of tourists will scramble to book hotels around the time the pink and white blooms are expected to peak. Hotels will scramble to squeeze them all in. Restaurant owners will gear up to serve the hungry, incoming throngs and retailers will stock their windows to suck visitors in.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival, extended to five-weeks long this year, is one of the D.C. business industry's dearest old friends. Nearly 100 restaurants have added blossom-inspired dishes to their menus and hotels are offering Festival-themed guest packages for visitors. Even taxi cabs will sport pink blossom decals.
Last year's celebration generated $126 million of revenue in the city, Mayor Vincent Gray said Thursday.
"Yes we take checks, we take credit cards, we'll even take an IOU," Gray joked.
To mark the milestone year, the Japanese and U.S. governments have designated the festival an official anniversary event. Both countries designed an exclusive commemorative stamp for the occasion to be handed out during the traditional Family Days events at the National Building Museum on March 24-25.
Organizers have also pledged to plant 1,000 of the public's favorite cherry blossom tree in the coming years. There are currently more than 3,000 trees in the city.
But festival organizers want to spread the wealth.
"This year the festival extends beyond the blossoms and into the entire region," said festival chair Susan E.S. Norton.
The rest of the weeks are marked by a dizzying array of events.
Pop star Sara Bareilles will perform at the opening ceremony on March 25 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
Just a few more include a fireworks show on the southwest waterfront on April 7, the Japan-American Society of D.C.'s street festival on April 14 and a new series of jazz performances at the Jefferson Memorial from April 19-22.
New to the year is the Petal Pass, a special discount card available for free at various Capital One branches throught the Washington region.
The annual festival parade will run for two hours this year with a few celebrity appearances — singer Javier Colon and ice-skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi, to name a few — and is being aired live on Channel 7 for the first time.
The festival concludes with a block party at Woodrow Wilson Plaza.
> Pop star Sara Bareilles will perform at the opening ceremony on March 25 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center
> Fireworks show on the southwest waterfront on April 7
> Parade and the Japan-American Society of D.C.’s street festival on April 14
> Series of jazz performances at the Jefferson Memorial from April 19-22
For a full schedule of National Cherry Blossom Festival happenings, go online to nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.