High winds whistled through the Washington area yesterday, gusting up to 40 miles an hour, toppling trees, twisting overhead traffic signals and knocking out power to more than 19,000 homes and businesses.

Wind reached a sustained speed of 26 miles an hour, knocked over construction barricades on the Woodrow Wilson bridge, kept weekend sailors in harbor and interrupted the transmissions of three television stations.

Although the somber gray clouds that had darkened Washington skies for days fled before the morning's breeze, the afternoon sunshine could do little to blunt the bitter edge of the wind's chill.

Today's temperatures are expected to climb as high as 62, which would be 12 degrees above yesterday's peak reading. However, northwesterly winds from 15 to 25 miles an hour are again expected.

As trees and branches swayed and snapped in yesterday's gusts, overhead power lines and associated equipment, such as insulators, tore and broke throughout the area. In northern Virginia, the Virginia Electric and Power Co. estimated that about 14,100 customers lost power for some part of the day.

The largest single incident involved almost 2,000 customers in the area of the Yorktowne Shopping Center near Gallows Road and Rte. 50 in Fairfax County. Power was out there for about two hours.

In Maryland, a 90-minute power outage in Bethesda that began about 10 a.m interrupted the transmissions of WDCA, Channel 20, WETA, Channel 26, and WHMM, Channel 32. In addition, according to the Potomac Electric Power Co., electricity was cut off to 5,000 more customers at times, including 800 homes near Connecticut Avenue and the East West Highway about 4 p.m., and 1,200 in Kensington and 900 near American University an hour later.