Virginia's unemployment rose to a record high of 9 percent in January, but state officials attributed much of the increase to seasonal factors and said they expect the rate to decline.

The January rate was six-tenths of a percent higher than the 8.4 percent jobless rate in December. That made it the highest rate since the state has been keeping records and almost 2 percent higher than the 7.2 percent jobless rate as recently as last August.

Still, at least in some parts of the state, the situation was far from bleak.

In Richmond, unemployment actually declined slightly, and the unemployment rate in Northern Virginia is so low that, were it counted as a separate area in national tallies instead of part of the metropolitan Washington area, Northern Virginia would have the second lowest jobless rate in the nation, said William Mezger, Virginia Employment Commission economist.

"Much of what happened in January was seasonal," Mezger said. He said that the drop-off in retail employment after the holiday season, a seasonal decline in the tourist industry and small layoffs in manufacturing and mining combined to drive the figure up.

"The rate usually goes up about four tenths of a percent in a real good year," he said.

Nationally, the unemployment rate was 11.2 percent in January, up from 10.5 percent in December. Figures for February will be announced today.

Richmond's unemployment rate dropped one tenth of a percent, in part because the food manufacturing business generally increases employment in January, Mezger said.

Unemployment increased from 4.2 percent to 4.4 percent in Northern Virginia in January.

Using December figures, Northern Virginia, if treated as a separate area, would have had the second lowest unemployment rate nationally, ranking behind Stamford, Conn., where the rate was 4 percent.

Mezger also noted that the Washington area has the seventh lowest unemployment rate in the nation.

In Virginia in January, there were 2.66 million workers, of whom 239,000 were out of work, compared with 225,100 in December. The number of Virginia residents drawing jobless benefits increased to 82,900 in January from 73,900 in December.

The highest rate reported for any county in the state was 32.8 percent in Buchanan County, in the state's coal mining region in the southwest. The lowest rate was 3.7 percent in Fairfax County