▶ Watch Video: Nature: Cherry blossoms

Cherry blossom season in Japan is an annual spectacle that signals spring – but in 2021, spring has sprung earlier than usual. In fact, this year Kyoto saw the earliest cherry blossom season in 1,209 years, according to data collected by Osaka University.

The 2021 cherry blossoms peaked on March 26, which hasn’t occurred since 812 AD, according to the data. The cherry blossoms have come close to beating the record – peaking on March 27 a few times – records show.

Yasuyuki Aono, a researcher at Osaka Prefecture University, wrote in the study that he used diaries and records about cherry blossoms, or “sakura,” kept by emperors, aristocrats, governors and monks in Kyoto, dating back to 812.

“Sakura blooms are very temperature sensitive,” Aono wrote. “Flowering and full bloom could be earlier or later depending on the temperature alone.” 

The early peak this year is likely due to climate change, experts told the Associated Press. Cherry blossoms in Japan usually peak in April, and timing of their bloom can provide information for climate change studies, Shunji Anbe, an official at the observations division at the Japan Meteorological Agency, said.

“We can say it’s most likely because of the impact of the global warming,” Anbe said, the AP reports. 

According to the agency’s data, the average temperature in Kyoto also been steadily climbing – 51.1 degrees Fahrenheit in March 2020, compared with 47.5 degrees Fahrenheit in March 1953. This year’s average March temperature in Japan has been 54.3 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Cherry blossoms have also peaked earlier in other Japanese cities this year, such as Tokyo. According to the agency’s sakura bloom status data, the cherry blossoms peaked six days earlier in Osaka compared with last year, and eight days earlier compared with normal years. They also peaked nine days earlier in Hiroshima compared with last year, and 10 days earlier compared with normal years. 

Cherry blossoms also usher in spring in Washington D.C. On average, the cherry blossoms in the nation’s capital bloom around the last week of March into the first week of April, according to Cherry Blossom Watch.

However, the timing can change with weather conditions. The National Park Service said that 70% of the cherry trees were in bloom as of March 28, which is on par with what is normal. “Extraordinary warm or cool temperatures have resulted in peak bloom as early as March 15 (1990) and as late as April 18 (1958),” the National Park Service says.