Winter arrives here this morning as the Washington area -- perhaps appropriately -- shivers in the grip of the coldest temperatures in more than nine months.

With icy air from Alaska and from Canada's Yukon Territory stabbing into the central and eastern United States, the mercury here cowered below the freezing level all day yesterday. The high reading, made at 3:20 p.m., was 26 degrees.

The last time the temperature here failed to reach the 32-degree mark was March 2, or 294 days ago. On that day, the high temperature was 25 degrees.

Yesterday's similarities between Washington and the Arctic were accentuated by northwest winds that gusted up to 30 miles an hour. Exposure to those winds yesterday was equivalent to facing termperatures ranging from 5 to 10 degrees below zero.

Unlike the Arctic at this time of year, there was no snow. Snowmaking machinery was being operated on the White House south lawn, a spokesman said, to provide snow for staff parties today and tomorrow.

Only a few hardy joggers and touch football players appeared on the Mall to squint in the cold, flat sunshine of the last full day of autumn. Winter arrives today at 11:56 a.m.

Officially, winter arrives at the moment when the sun is directly above the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere. Its arrival marks the shortest day of the year. The time between sunrise and sunset today is 9 hours and 27 minutes.

Temperatures today are expected to be a few degrees warmer than yesterday, but to remain below freezing again. Tomorrow, the first full day of winter, the mercury is expected to approach the normal and more moderate high of about 43.