Low temperatures over the next three nights could decide whether Washington’s famed cherry blossoms survive a streak of winter whiplash, potentially resulting in nearly all the blossoms wilting away before their spectacular display.

The National Park Service said temperatures below twenty-seven degrees Fahrenheit will begin to harm the buds, as small white flowers turn to shades of brown. But if temperatures tumble to twenty-four degrees and lower, 90 percent of the blossoms could be lost.

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“Just thirty minutes of exposure to those conditions is all it takes,” said National Park Service Spokesman Mike Litterst in an interview Tuesday. “What we would see is likely a very muted peak bloom.”

Buds would remain after exposure to temperatures in the low twenties. The full effects would take about 24 hours to manifest in the form of wilted, brown blossoms.

Forecasters revised peak projections last week, moving full bloom dates from this Tuesday to March 19 – 22. If a worst-case scenario unfolds, the NPS said different varieties of cherry blossoms across the District are still expected to bloom in two weeks.

“We're used to every year seeing the entire Tidal Basin ringed in white and pink flowers,” Litterst said. “It would be much more sporadic than we're used to.”

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As for whether anything can be done to protect the renowned blossoms, park rangers ruled out that option.

“There's really nothing that we can, or that we would do,” Litterst said. “These are natural resources in a national park just like Grand Canyon or Yellowstone or Yosemite. It's policy of the National Park Service just to let nature take its course and not interfere with the natural processes.”

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