Warm winter no worry for D.C. Cherry Blossom festival

WASHINGTON Fri Feb 24, 2012 5:08pm EST

Cherry trees bloom in view of the Washington Monument during the National Cherry Blossom Festival along the Tidal Basin in Washington, April 2, 2011.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Cherry trees bloom in view of the Washington Monument during the National Cherry Blossom Festival along the Tidal Basin in Washington, April 2, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Above-average temperatures have brought February blooms to Washington, but organizers of the centennial National Cherry Blossom Festival see the springlike winter as no threat to their celebration.

The festival draws thousands of visitors each year to the capital's Tidal Basin to enjoy the pink and white blossoms. This year's celebration carries a special cachet since it marks the 100th anniversary of Japan's gift of cherry trees as a sign of friendship with the United States.

Asked if festival organizers were afraid the 3,770 cherry trees could blossom early from the warm weather and spoil the party, spokeswoman Danielle Piacente said: "We're not in worry mode yet."

She said the trees needed a prolonged period of above- or below-normal temperatures to affect their peak bloom. The U.S. Park Service will make its prediction about the peak date on Thursday.

"The only thing we don't worry about is the weather, because it's out of our control," Piacente said.

Like much of the United States, Washington has seen an exceptionally mild winter, with average temperatures in the capital five degrees above normal in January and February, the National Weather Service said.

The warm weather and temperatures expected to reach 72 degrees brought out at least one shirtless jogger on Friday and has contributed to a scattering of early blossoms on Washington's streets.

April 4 is the average date for the cherry trees to reach peak bloom, or when 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino cherry tree variety are open.

The 2012 Cherry Blossom festival runs from March 20 to April 27. It includes art shows, concerts, kabuki theater, kite flying, bicycle tours and a rugby tournament.

(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Paul Thomasch)

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