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Where Have All The Flowers Gone? A False Spring Followed by a Blizzard Hurts the Backdrop of Blooms Spring Event Planners Count On

5 Apr, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

A recent Facebook meme, picked up by thousands of users in the Northeast:

Me: Mother Nature, you cannot go through all four seasons in one week.

Mother Nature: Hold my beer.

And while it was easy to laugh off Ma Nature’s mood swings on social media, event owners didn’t find it quite as funny. A snowstorm that clobbered the area in the middle of March (following a relatively mild winter) wreaked unexpected havoc on early spring sports events at all levels.

According to Meetings & Conventions, the powerful Nor'easter grounded more than 5,000 flights, closed schools in cities from D.C. to Boston and prompted meteorologists to caution drivers to stay off the roads. Nearly 100,000 customers from Virginia to Pennsylvania lost power. Blizzard warnings were issued for parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

The storm hit on a Monday night and lasted in some places well into Wednesday. But it wasn’t just snarled traffic and cancelled flights that suffered – something else that took a hit was, quite unexpectedly, some spring foliage that typically provides the backdrop for some incredibly popular runs.

In Washington, D.C., the cherry blossoms – the area’s first tourism opportunity of the year – were expected to be greatly diminished by the sudden cold. And that was bad news for last weekend’s Cherry Blossom Ten-Mile Run and 5K Run & Walk, one of the area’s most eagerly anticipated events.

The Cherry Blossom race is wildly popular and not even a dim bloom forecast keeps people away from it – but race organizers hate to disappoint those who come to run through the pinkish-white trees at their peak season. (Fun fact: the race is so popular, other races have sprung up to catch the overflow; one of these is the Annapolis Striders Cherry Pit 10-Mile Race (tagline: “Others may have the blossoms; we have the pits.”)

It’s not the first time a cold snap has caused problems for blossoms that signal spring, nor the tourism that goes with them. Just around this time a few years back, the Greater Toronto Area’s magnolia blossoms suffered from an ill-timed cold snap. Just as with the cherry blossoms in D.C., a March cold front swept through and damaged the buds, which were just beginning to unfurl in advance of their early April peak. This year’s magnolia blooms in D.C. also were diminished by the cold weather.

In the case of both the cherry and magnolia blooms in D.C. as well as Toronto, a mild winter seemed to end early and a sudden onset of warm temperatures teased the buds open early. The sudden harsh temperatures, an unwelcome part of the equation, then damaged the crop.

The good news, according to the Washington Post, is that while cold weather can and does damage the buds, it won’t damage the trees themselves. Additionally, Michael Stachowicz, a National Park Service official in D.C., noted he was optimistic that some of the buds that were not as far along in the bloom process will survive the blast of cold. “We have various stages, so we have various sensitivity to the weather,” he said. “Our hope is that there’s enough variation in our bud stages that we could still put on a pretty good show.”

While it’s easy for event organizers to plan sports that tie into a natural phenomenon (spring blossoms, leaves changing – even the Northern Lights), it’s also necessary to understand (and to make sure participants understand) there is no force more unpredictable, nor more undeniable, than nature. Snowstorms have damaged facilities, leading to the cancellation of multiple events – so perhaps having a game, race or tournament that goes on despite a somewhat diminished backdrop of flowers isn’t quite as bad.

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