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Summertime in the winter: D.C. high a record 82 degrees

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Local,DC,Courtney Zott

The District hit a record-breaking 82 degrees on a late winter's day Thursday. But while the freakishly warm weather might have felt nice, it's throwing off the usually reliable timing of D.C.'s springtime cash magnet: cherry blossom blooming season and the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

If the National Park Service's new peak bloom prediction proves accurate, more than 2 1/2 weeks of festival fun in April could be blossom-free. And that's a best-case scenario.

"We're not worried at all," said festival spokeswoman Danielle Piacente. "Unfortunately, Mother Nature does what it will do."

NPS has twice modified its peak bloom prediction -- the period at which 70 percent of the blossoms around the Tidal Basin are open -- since Chief Horticulturalist Rob DeFeo's original forecast last month. The famous Japanese trees are now expected to peak between March 20 and 23. This period can last from 10 to 17 days, according to DeFeo.

The festival's kickoff is also March 20. The catch: The festival has been expanded to five weeks to celebrate the blossom's 100th anniversary.

That means that if the blossoms peak March 23 and last for 17 days (the best-case scenario), the festival will run for more than two weeks without the customary pink petals. Last year the peak bloom lasted for 14 days.

DeFeo said the blossoms are currently in the "puffy white stage," the last stage before bloom, said NPS spokeswoman Carol Johnson. He attributed the early blooming to the warm nights gracing the District this past week.

"There's nothing stopping them now," Johnson said.

Meanwhile, the District basked in record-breaking temperatures Thursday. The National Weather Service recorded a high of 82 degrees at 2:16 p.m. at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, according to meteorologist Carrie Suffern -- just enough to top an 81-degree day in 1990.

Typically, the March 15 high temperature in D.C. is 56 degrees. Spring doesn't begin until March 20, but the District seems to want to jump past that season.

"I think it's kind of a little ... summery almost," said David Cheng, an application developer at IBM, as he ate lunch Thursday in the sunshine at Franklin Park. "Last year in March it was still pretty cold."

Even tourists marveled at the California-like conditions.

"I don't think either of us expected it," said Mary K. Egan, who flew in from Colorado on Wednesday, as she walked the National Mall with her sister. "It's summer. This is summer. But it's not July."

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