If you awakened yesterday morning without the heat turned on, it was downright nippy, though the night before was not the coolest of the season. "It just felt that way," National Weather Service forecaster Frank Rosenstein observed.

The coolness, an overnight low early yesterday of 54 followed by last night's probable low of close to 50, is merely a harbinger of what some experts foresee as the coldest winter in several years.

In the region that includes Virginia, "We feel that it will be colder than three-quarters of the winters of the 20th century," according to Patrick Michaels, the state climatologist at the University of Virginia.

He said he expects daily high temperatures to average two to three degrees lower than normal, although he made no specific predictions for individual parts of the state. While precipitation is expected to be less than normal, the low temperatures make it likely that more of it will fall in the form of snow rather than rain.

The average annual snowfall at Washington National Airport is 27.8 inches.

Rosenstein, the forecaster at National Airport, said that twice this season, we've already had it cooler than yesterday's 54--Sept. 24, when the mercury dipped to 51, and Oct. 3, when it was 52.

Why, then, did yesterday seem so chilly? Rosenstein's theory is that Sunday's high temperature of 60 wasn't enough to warm house interiors, so indoor temperatures dropped lower than usual overnight.