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Global contest calls on British Columbians to predict cherry blossom bloomings

This is the third year of the contest, which helps researchers predict everchanging blooming worldwide
FILE – Cherry blossoms flowering in Creston (Kelsey Yates/Black Press Media)

British Columbians are no strangers to cherry blossoms by the time March rolls around, and a new contest is offering cash prizes to those who can predict when the pink flowers will bloom this year.

Elizabeth Wolkovich, a professor in the department of of forest and conservation sciences at UBC, is calling on British Columbians to participate in the guessing contest, hosted by George Mason University.

“The cherry blossom season, on average, has begun earlier and earlier over the past four decades, with some plants or locations having advanced two or three weeks,” Wolkovich said. “Engaging the public in predicting bloom times gets more people talking about climate change and how it’s affecting nature around us.”

Those who participate will guess when cherry blossoms will bloom in five cities around the world: Vancouver, Washington D.C., New York City, Kyoto in Japan, and Liestal-Weideli in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Selfie sticks bloom beneath Vancouver’s cherry blossoms, as petal power goes global

The blooming of cherry blossoms is rather complex and often hard to predict, in-part due to varying weather patterns and increases in warmer weather. Cherry blossoms need a certain amount of cold days in the winter, followed by a certain period of warmer weather, a pattern that triggers flowering.

“It’s difficult to forecast peak bloom more than 10 days in advance because blossom development depends on the weather and local micro climates, which are different every year,” said George Mason University professor Jonathan Auerbach. “Our first two years of the competition produced some great results. Some of the forecasts were stunningly accurate, within a day or two of the actual peaks. We hope to attract even more contributions this year.”

All entries must be completed by Feb. 29, and will be evaluated by a panel of judges that are looking for creativity, combined with data-analysis techniques and biological insight. Results will be announced in late May-early June.

In addition to cash prizes, winners have a chance to be featured on the website Real World Data Science.