What's that you say? The weather is warming up a bit? I can't believe it.

It has been cold in Washington for so long that I've forgotten what it's like to be warm. I think I used to like it, but my rememberer is frozen.

At this point, there must be a lot of people in Our Town who are wondering why they ever though it would be such a big deal to leave Georgia and move to Washington.

For the most part, we have taken the cold weather with patience and understanding. The greater the affliction it must bear, the better honed a people's sense of humor becomes.

"I'm not complaining," a friend said to me recently. "In fact, I'm glad it's this bad.If we'd have had less snow and ice, I'd have been expected to shovel it. This way we just throw up our hands and say we'll have to wait for the sun to melt it."

One man didn't wait. Ted Lerner, who is driving hard to get his White Flint Shopping Center ready on time, told me his people had to use dynamite to break up ice formations a few days ago. When I told colleague Jack Walsh about this, his expressive face became elaborately serious. "I blame the whole thing on the use of Celsius," he said. "We never used to have weather like this when we used Fahrenheit."

The cold weather has been a bonanza for professionals like Bob Orben. It gives them something new to make jokes about. Bob says that when he gave a formal dinner the other night, he served the red wine at room temperature. "We served it on sticks," he explained.

Orben thinks President Carter has asked us to turn down our thermostats too far. "This morning," he told me, "I woke up and yawned, and a little light went on. Sherman burned Atlanta, so now Carter is getting even by freezing Washington."

In Miami, says Orben, he saw a pair of mittens pinned to a bikini. Only the Arabs have benefitted. In the midst of one of the coldest winters on record, who has the oil we need to keep warm? The Arabs. Oil is expensive, and we need money to buy it. And who has all the money? The Arabs. "But what really hurts," Orben adds, "is that all winter long we've had snow and sleet, and we need sand to put on our roads. And who has all the sand?"

Conditions are so bad that Bob has been goaded into committing poetry. "The temperature's far below zero," he wrote. "The roads are all covered with sleet. The car you can't start in the morning - is the one you can't stop in the street."

However, beneath the frivolity, I think people sense they may be living through one of the most important eras in history. The world may be about the turn cold again.

Because some high altitude wind patterns shifted, people died. Millions were inconvenienced, millions suffered economic consequences.

Now we're faced with questions no man can answer. Were these wind shifts temporary - in the grand scheme of things no more than the blink of an eye - or do they mark the beginning of a long-term change in climate? Will temperatures remain as they are now, get steadily worse for the next hundred winters, or go back up to previous levels? Are our temperate zones about to become frigid? Will a hundred million people be forced to migrate from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan?

Even if the change in our weather is fleeting, it will be rated one of the most important news stories of the year. If it turns out to be a long-term change, or worse yet, a harbinger of greater changes to come, it becomes one of the most important stories of the century. In fact, it might be too big a story for us to cover properly. Our knowledge of the universe remains far too skimpy.

If there will be need to adapt for survival, our future is precarious. I'm just grateful the new Ice Age didn't knock at our door a hundred years ago.If we're ignorant about the universe now, how would you describe the state of our knowledge then?