Two men, both apparently homeless, froze to death on city streets on Christmas morning as the temperature here fell to its lowest level in almost two years.

The deaths, which came as Washington shivered through its coldest Christmas in 108 years, were the first in the Washigton area attributed to exposure this season.

Willie Bass, 52, of no fixed address, was found semiconscious about 3 a.m. in the 1300 block of H Street NE. He died shortly afterward at the Washington Hospital Center.

The body of an unidentified man who appeared to be in his 30s was found several hours later on the steps of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1313 New York Ave. NW, police said.

Autopsies later showed that both men died of exposure.

The two deaths were discovered on a day when fierce northwest winds knifed across the area and the mercury here sank to 12 degrees at National Airport at 7:36 a.m., the lowest reading since Feb. 20, 1979.

The 12-degree figure was the lowest Christmas reading since the five degrees recorded on Dec. 25, 1872.

Despite the cold, no snow fell here. The sun shone throughout the day and, as it has most years, Washington went without a white Christmas.

Elsewhere in the nation, in places where snow fell and where it did not, low temperature records were set by the same blanket of icy air that froze Washington.

In Washington, winds that reached 26 miles an hour and gusted to as high as 38 were enough to bring tears to the eyes of pedestrians and produce a chill factor far below zero.

In the Chesapeake Bay fiercer gusts, reaching 70 miles an hour, were blamed for tearing an empty coal ship from its anchorage and pushing it into two others.

No injuries were reported in the incident, which occurred about 5:30 a.m. a few miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

The severity of the weather here is expected to abate today and tomorrow as the high pressure system that brought it moves eastward out to sea.

High temperatures here today are expected to range from 28 to 33 degrees, well above yesterday's daytime high of 21.

The mercury tomorrow is expected to rise still further to the 32-to-36-degree range.

In addition to the two exposure deaths here that marred the holiday, at least three persons died in traffic on Virginia highways since 6 p.m. Christmas eve, authorities reported.

Also, a woman in the District was critically injured when she was run over by a subway train about 5 p.m. yesterday at the Union Station stop on Metro's Red Line.