Cherra Gilbert was walking on 15th Street NW yesterday, on her way back to work at First American Bank, when she noticed something was different. She had her carryout lunch in a bag--two scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns and milk--and something made her stop on the corner and take a deep breath.

"It tasted like spring," said the 24-year-old bank teller. "It's wonderful, isn't it? I didn't think it would ever come."

Officially, it hasn't. The National Weather Service says spring will arrive at 5:56 p.m. EST on March 20, the time of the spring equinox.

But while Washington waits for the sun to bounce into its side of the hemispherical court, area residents will be treated to spring-like temperatures over the next few days.

The mercury today will hover in the 60s and will reach the low 70s on Saturday. Rain is predicted for Sunday, with temperatures in the 60s. It will be clear and a little milder on Monday.

Though long awaited, yesterday's weather brought a kind of uncertainty. On busy lunchtime streets downtown, people didn't seem to know what to wear. Some wore overcoats and hats, walking down the sunny sides of the streets, battened and buttoned, beads of sweat on their temples.

Others were more flexible, removing their coats as they walked. Doing so, they looked like ritual dancers, performing a particular rite of spring, twisting this way and that to avoid hitting others with their elbows.

And there were the bold ones, people like Lynne Heneson. She took a chance on the day and left work at the Department of Health and Human Services without her coat, bound for lunch at Mr. Henry's on Capitol Hill.

"It's just spring and the world is mud luscious. I'm going to look for the goat-footed balloon man," said the devotee of poet e.e. cummings.

Sitting on a bench at McPherson Square, Emily Cichon, 24, savored her banana yogurt. Her celebration of spring was to shoot the works, topping-wise. In her green and white Yummy Yogurt cup, along with the yogurt, were cherries, bananas, strawberries, pineapples, blueberries and a white plastic spoon, the last being the key to the enjoyment of such a delicacy.

"It's such a gorgeous day," said Cichon, a legal secretary. "A perfect day for being on a park bench eating yogurt."

And, according to Ilene Ackerman of the National Zoo, a perfect day for monkeys, which were busying themselves chewing on maple branches, and for Dorcas gazelles, which were running around their pens, and especially for birds. In the birdhouse, Ackerman said, "courtship and breeding are definitely on the rise."

Back at McPherson Square, however, human courtship wasn't doing quite so well. Ross Toyne, 19, sat alone on the lawn.

The computer programmer for Association Management Inc. was eating carryout antipasto and fretting about a housecleaning of the heart. His lady friend, 14 years his senior, had recently broken off their relationship.

"Spring is a time that people terminate old ties and start over," Toyne said, chucking a black olive across the grass. "It's a case of the proverbial older woman striking again. I guess she thought she had to start redefining her goals."

But spring being as it is, a time when flowers grow and smiles bud, Toyne says he will get over the present hard times. "I'm going to get back into shape, catch a tan, and cruise around in an Italian sports car." Graphcis1: A runner jogs along beside the Potomac near Memorial Bridge during yesterday morning's fog.