Not even the blustery "Blizzard of '96" or the unusually cold winter temperatures can delay this year's blossoming of the cherry trees.
"Cold weather has no effect on the blossoms," says Robert DeFeo, chief regional horticulturist for the National Park Service. "In fact, the blossoms need cold weather to differentiate in order to become flower buds."
The city's approximately 3,300 trees are expected to blossom during the week of April 4-9 and will reach their pink-and-white peak April 7, in the middle of the festival that bears their name, Mr. DeFeo says.
What concerns the Park Service is the effect of the January floods. "We feel pretty confident that the blossoms will be fine," Mr. DeFeo says. "But what happens from here on is what's most important."
The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs from March 31 to April 14 and features dozens of events, including the annual parade, free concerts, a golf tournament, Japanese cultural exhibits, a black-tie gala, a tennis tournament and regattas.
Reigning over the two-week event is 1996 National Cherry Blossom Festival Queen Jessica Dawn Stoner of Marysville, Pa. Miss Stoner is a senior college student majoring in East Asian studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
She will be joined by goodwill ambassadors Calantha Ceasar, of Denham Springs, La., a junior at the University of Florida; and Angela Marie Ray, of Lindstrom, Minn., a senior at the University of Wisconsin.
The queen will be crowned during the festival's opening ceremonies on the afternoon of March 31 at the Southwest Waterfront. The queen is selected from among nominated students who study the Japanese language or Asian studies at U.S. colleges and universities.
"Two years ago, we changed the rules of the pageant," says Drew Von Bergen, president of the 1996 festival. "We've placed more of an emphasis on education. We ask 330 colleges to nominate students in Japanese or Asian studies programs."
Cora Masters Barry will light the lantern during opening ceremonies, kicking off the festival that is coordinated by volunteers.
"I'm trying to cut a deal with Mr. Defeo to help my cherry blossom trees bloom," Mrs. Barry says, laughing.
"I've had them for a number of years but they haven't bloomed," she says, then delivers greetings from Mayor Marion Barry while offering a proclamation to Mr. Von Bergen.
"The festival is our biggest springtime boost for tourism," says Marie Tibor, vice president of Communications and Tourism of the Washington Convention and Visitors Association. …