Cold temperatures mauled the cherry blossoms and stole another day of spring yesterday.

In what resembles a prolonged, cold-hearted April Fools' trick, temperatures dipped to 24 degrees yesterday, a record low for the date. The normal high is 64 degrees, but yesterday it only got as warm as 43--which equals the normal low for April 7.

Little mercy was shown toward the cherry blossoms, Washington's most spectacular showpiece of spring.

About 30 to 50 percent of the flowers were destroyed by the bitter cold and harsh winds, "but many of the trees will retain their blooms--barring any repeat of this kind of weather," said Dick Hammerschlag of the National Park Service. "There will be enough for people to enjoy this weekend."

Catching many area residents by surprise, the cold sent early-rising workers such as Mike Burwell, a construction site security guard, dashing back home to change into heavier clothing.

"When I first stepped outside, it was so cold I went back in and put some long underwear on," said Burwell, 26, who rides the bus downtown to his job at the D.C. Convention Center construction site.

"It was like a flashback to January," he said. "There were a lot less people standing at the bus stop. I guess they stayed at home, waiting for spring to return."

The record low, recorded at 6 a.m. at National Airport, surpassed the previous record of 29 degrees, set in 1881.

The weather service predicted that a mixture of rain, sleet and snow would hit the area by midafternoon today, with highs of 42 to 47 degrees. Tonight the mixed precipitation will change to all rain, with lows in the mid 30s, the weather service said.

The weather service said temperatures should climb gradually in the next few days but remain slightly below normal on Sunday.

Hammerschlag, an urban plant specialist with the park service, said he was shocked after surveying the considerable damage done by the cold and wind, not only to the cherry blossoms but to the other bearers of spring hereabouts as well--the forsythia, daffodils, magnolias and other blooms that decorate the grounds of federal buildings, parks and monuments.

"It's sad to see any plant that has lost its purpose for being," he said. "On the other hand, maybe it's educational. We realize that Mother Nature is still a strong and unpredictable force and we are but mere humans. It puts us in our place sometimes . . . every 100 years."

By and large, Washingtonians seemed to take the cold snap in stride, if not quite willingly.

If carpenter Johnnie P. Good, 27, of Northwest Washington, had had his way yesterday, his place would have been in bed with his wife and not out building a wall near the Ninth Street NW side of the unfinished Convention Center.

"You think I wanted to get out here in the cold . . . ?" he asked. "You know I didn't want to do that. But I looked in the icebox and it was on 'E' so I didn't have a choice but to come make the money."

Both Good and his partner Darryl Wilson, 24, were covered from head to toe in hard hat, knit cap, insulated canvas overalls, boots and gloves.

D.C. police officer Gloria Vessels, who left her home in Suitland at 7:15 a.m., said she hasn't enjoyed the unseasonable weather, but she also hasn't let it discourage her.

"This morning, I put on my winter coat, put my scarf around my neck and put on my gloves," she said. "I bundled up like I would have in December. It almost blew me away. It was too cold."