Freezing rain and sleet hit the Washington area yesterday, slowing afternoon rush-hour traffic to a crawl over ice-slicked roads and causing scores of minor accidents as Washingtonians suffered through yet another day of freezing weather.

A treacherous rush-hour lasted well past 8 p.m. on several major roads, and accidents, some involving as many as six cars, were reported throughout the metropolitan area.

Although the National Weather Service predicted occasional periods of freezing rain through the early morning hours today, main roads that had been salted last night were expected to be in "good shape," according to a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation. However, side streets that road crews were unable to reach would remain slippery, he said.

The weather service forecasters had predicted warmer temperatures, in the mid- to upper-30s, for Tuesday. But a warm mass of air in the Carolinas that had been counted on to drive the cold north and east developed much more slowly than anticipated.

As a result, temperatures never climbed higher than 22 degrees at 1 p.m. yesterday afternoon, only 4 degrees above the low recorded at 5 a.m., and the weather service was forced to issue traveler's advisories for most of the region. At the same time, several localities implemented emergency snow and ice plans to deal with the treacherous conditions.

"Roads are horrible out there," said a Fairfax County police spokeswoman yesterday afternoon. "We've got drizzle-type, icy rain, freezing when it hits the roads. There are minor accidents all over."

Several accidents and mishaps served to slow evening rush-hour traffic on main arteries considerably, local police reported, although nowhere was traffic brought to a complete standstill.

In one instance, shortly after 1 p.m. in Washington, a water main broke at Suitland Parkway and Stanton Road, flooding the streets with water that quickly froze, coating the streets with ice. Late yesterday afternoon, city water crews were still trying to locate the break.

The Baltimore-Washington Parkway, between Rtes. 197 and 175, was closed shortly after rush-hour because of the ice, according to U.S. Park Police. In Prince George's County, police reported more than 100 accidents yesterday, mostly minor ones with few injuries.

The story was similar in Virginia, where Arlington police reported cars sliding into minor accidents on Lee Highway and Rte. 50.

At National Airport, there were flight delays of up to 20 minutes, when officials closed the main runway, the only one which was in use, to de-ice it twice during the evening, according to an airport spokesman.

"Sometime tonight Tuesday it should start warming, maybe after midnight," said Walter Green of the weather service. "Then highs should be in the mid- to upper-30s Wednesday."

Temperatures Thursday are expected to be milder, with highs in the 40s, according to the weather service.