Washington's record breaking warm spell ended abruptly late yesterday as thunderstorms and high winds thrashed through the area, bringing cooler temperatures but still barely a whiff of the winter that is yet to come. c

A line of violent squalls with wind gusts up to 48 miles per hour hit the area in late afternoon, sending temperatures from a record high of 74 degrees to the low 60s within minutes.

Despite the winds and locally heavy rains, police throughout the area reported few downed trees or other traffic hazards to slow the evening rush hour.

The cold front ended an unprecedented nine-day streak of 70-degree weather that brought both people and insects out in unaccustomed numbers to enjoy the freakish respite from what has otherwise been a typical gloomy, soggy Washington area autumn.

"I've been getting stung by everything from chiggers to mosquitoes," said author Harold Weisberg, who lives on a rural hillside near Frederick. "I don't remember ever seeing them in November before . . .Flies are hatching out, too."

Area entomologists, or bug specialists, agree the warm weather triggered a surge of insect activity.

Many insects normally in a "quiescent egg stage" at this time of year were hatched by the unseasonable warmth and began repopulating the landscape, said Gary Hevel, collections manager of the department of entomology at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History. "I've noticed a few mosquitoes out myself and grasshoppers, too."

Colder weather will kill them off soon, Hevel said, and the pattern of insect life will return to normal.

The warm spell that started here Nov. 18 broke or tied at least six heat records at National Airport, including yesterday's high reading of 74 degrees, which surpassed the old record of 72 degrees for the date set in 1896. dIn addition, readings of 75 degrees set a new record on Nov. 23 and matched the existing high mark of 75 on Nov. 22.

For trivia buffs, the low temperature for the day on both Nov. 24 and 25 fell to only 60 degrees -- the "highest low" temperature rcorded on those days since the National Weather Service began keeping records in 1871. t

The previous record high minimum temperatures for both days was 56 degrees, set in 1971 and 1908, respectively.

Perhaps most unusual, however was a string of peak temperatures during the warm spell of 70 degrees or higher for a record nine days in a row -- two more than the previous record, set in 1879, for consecutive 70-degree days in November.

The normal high temperature for this time of year is about 52 degrees and the normal low about 36.

Weather service forecasters called for increasing cloudiness and a 20 percent chance of rain today with temperatures ranging from the low 40s to the low 60s.