Nick Armatas sat at his Northwest Orient ticket counter yesterday, glorifying the day and wondering why he bothered recently to cross the continent to feel San Francisco weather when he could have had the same here at home.

"This definitely does not seem like a December day. It really feels like spring," he said.

Yesterday's high of 68 degrees, which tied the record for the date set in 1971, sent hundreds of downtown Washington's daytime population into the parks and streets, shedding coats, donning smiles and, according to vendors, spending freely.

"People go nuts when the weather is like this," said professed people-watcher Bobby Linette, standing near 17th and K streets NW with his hands in his pockets. "Coats come off and people go flipping out."

"People are friendlier, nicer when the weather is warm," said K Street fruit vendor Charles Williams, 53, a retired military man. He stood watch over a makeshift table of oranges, apples, pomegranates and other fruits. w"I made $100 today because it was warmer. Yesterday I made $50. Seems like it's closer to Easter than Christmas."

Since Dec. 4, according to National Weather Service forecasters, the metropolitan area has enjoyed unseasonable warm temperatures and sunny skies. Forecaster Bob Werner says it's not supposed to be that way.

"We should be having changeable weather normally, meaning mild days, then colder, then mild again," Werner said. Normally, the average high would be 45 degrees and the low for this time of year 29, he said. The area has been running well above those figures.

Werner credited the spring-like temperatures to a high pressure system centered over the Carolinas during the last several days. The high pressure system has begun to move off the mid-Atlantic coast, Werner said.

The movement of the high pressure system will bring near normal cooler temperatures and cloudy skies today, Thursday and Friday, with a chance of occasional rain Thursday and Friday. Highs today will be in the low to mid 60s, and lows in the low 40s. Thursday and Friday, temperatures are expected to approach highs of 45 degrees and lows of about 30.