Hailstones, many as big as golf balls, pelted the Washington area last night as a brief but spectacular thunderstorm swept across the city and suburbs.

The storm, described as "unreal" by a doorman at a downtown hotel and "weird" in the suddenness of its onset by a cashier at a Virginia drive-in theater, dropped at least a few hailstones that were larger than baseballs.

When the pounding on his roof subsided a few minutes after 8 p.m., Ed Adams of 3715 Logan Ct. in Alexandria, went out to scoop up some of the hailstones. One or two that he stored in his freezer measured three inches across, he said.

"It was wild," said Marilynn Faust, of Charlton Drive in the Kent Mill area of Silver Spring. On the other side of the city hailstones filled the parking lot of the Vepco offices in Alexandria. "You could have taken a shovel and shoveled it out" one employe said.

One hailstone, described as "bigger than a half dollar," hit the window of a car driven by Connie Webb on King Street in Alexandria. "I thought it was going to break the window" she said.

Relatively little damage was reported despite the intensity of the storm, which lasted about five to 10 minutes as it swept to the northwest from Mount Vernon toward Montgomery County.

It shattered panes of glass set out to protect plants in the garden of C. W. Donohoe at Fourth Street and Missouri Avenue NW. "It was real bad" Donohoe said. "Some of the hailstones were as big as golf balls."

The storm, he said was "pretty nasty. The worst one I've seen in years."

Streaming through an open window, hail rattled on the floor of D.C. fire alarm headquarters. Clattering on car roofs, the hail added new sound effects to the showing of "grease" and "Baltimore Bullet" at the Mt. Vernon Drive-In Theatre.

"It was just really weird," said cashier Terry Knight. "It started out as rain, then all of a sudden, boom!"

Hailstones indicate the power of the updrafts in some thunderstorms.Ice crystals begin falling, but, like smoke particles rising in a chimney, they are carried back upward to high levels while more moisture freezes around them. The process continues until the stones become too big and heavy for the updrafts to support any longer.