Japan's cherry blossoms have hit their earliest peak in more than 1,200 years, in a rather gorgeous sign of a devastating problem: ongoing climate change. Emperors, monks, and governors have kept records on cherry blooms since the 8th century, making it "incredibly valuable for climate change research," Columbia University research scientist Benjamin Cook tells the Washington Post, noting warmer springs typically mean earlier flowering. The previous record for earliest peak bloom—when 80% of flowers are open—was on March 27, 1409. But after a warm March in Japan, that record was beaten by a day on Friday. This fits into a pattern. After holding steady for 1,000 years, the average peak bloom date since 1800 has been shifting to earlier and earlier in the spring. The effect is visible in particular cities, too.
Tokyo's blooms peaked March 22 for the second-earliest date on record and earliest since 1953, reports Japan Forward. This was the ninth earlier-than-normal bloom in a row, per the Post. Kyoto's blooms also peaked Friday, well before the April 5 average—moved up from the April 17 average in 1850, when the average temperature was 6 degrees cooler—for the earliest date in decades, per the AP. It reports "similar records were set this year in more than a dozen cities across Japan." Cook blames climate change, but says some warming is "likely from an enhanced heat island effect due to increased urbanization." Since 1912, the average peak bloom date for the cherry trees in Washington, DC, has also shifted forward from April 5 to March 31. But they peaked on Sunday "after temps well above average last week," the National Park Service says, per Axios. (Read more climate change stories.)