I don't hate winter. It is good and even necessary, a time for adults to work and children to learn, a time for farmland and lifeguards to rest, a time to watch the minor sports until baseball returns in the spring.

I don't hate cold. I don't like it, mind you, but a good heating system and several sweaters can make it bearable. I don't hate cold about as much as I don't hate heat as long as the air conditioning works well.

I do hate snow. It was an acquired hate. As a child I loved snow for the closed schools, the sledding and snowball fights, and the money to be made from shoveling driveways. When I started to have to drive in the stuff, when being snowed in meant not missing school but figuring a way to get to work, when packed-down snow became a treacherous walkway rather than a great sledding surface, the switch was made.

I hate snow.

For years in Washington I lived downtown, within walking distance of work, the supermarket, the doctor. Now I live a bit farther out, not Gaithersburg by any means, but not within walking distance of anything crucial except perhaps Bob's Famous Ice Cream. To exit my garage and reach the main road is, thanks to a 30 degree uphill grade and a 90 degree dogleg in the driveway, impossible unless the plow has done its work. And now I am being warned to expect a severe winter.

I hate snow.

The first indication that this winter might not be a good one came when Mount St. Helens erupted. The weather experts said the dust in the air would cause a very slight cooling of the atmosphere. Just enough, they said, to give the Washington area one or possibly two extra snowstorms.

Then Gordon Barnes started talking on the radio about how severe this winter would be. "More precipitation, lower temperatures" he said.More snow, I translated. The fact that he said this when the temperature outside was in the high 90s did not comfort me. After all, said a newspaper article, a very hot summer did not necessarily mean a warm winter.

As fall approached, the woolly bear caterpillar is a large and very hairy creature, as caterpillars go, and its hair has been seen to be quite black this year. A severe winter, said the caterpillar bureau of the Farmer's Almanac. No indication that Gordon Barnes' silver hair meant a mild winter.

When Mother Nature and Gordon Barnes agree on the weather, I figure there might be something to what they say.

I hate snow.

Now I hear a radio jingle for Eddie Bauer, outfitter to the affluent camper. "Don't trust the snow not to fall on you, don't trust Mother Nature not to turn on you. . ." Thanks Eddie, I needed that.

The Hagerstown Almanac did not help matters when it called for a long and wet winter, although the Farmer's Almanac is looking for mild and dry in this region. I prefer the latter's forecast, but it seems outvoted this year.

Isn't it time for a new warm-weather cycle. My mind wanders back longingly for those halcyon days of the early 1970s, particularly the winter of 1971-72, when temperatures seemed to reach 50 degrees many days and when the only appreciable snow came one February morning and was gone by noon.

If it must snow -- and I suppose it must -- let it arrive unannounced after I fall asleep and end at dawn, so that the roads are passable by the time I leave for work and so there is no anticipation. This inticipation is often worse than the snowfall itself. Fortunately, the weather forecasts are so often wrong that one can ignore them and have a good chance of saying unnecessary wear and tear on the worrybone.

My main hope, though, is simply that I have not heard a definition of what a "severe" winter is. In a city where a one-inch snowfall creates panic in the streets, perhaps "severe" is nothing more than a few three- to four-inch snowfalls. I think I can survive a few three- to four-inch snowfalls. If they come after midnight unannounced and end by 7 and all the snowplows are operative and the streets don't turn icy.

I hate snow.