Washington's crime rate traditionally goes up in hot weather, D.C. police say, because the heat makes tempers short, there are more potential crime targets walking the streets and young people, the group most likely to commit crimes, are out of school.

But this August is different. The rate of violent crimes, including homicides and rapes, is down remarkably in the last several weeks, police officials said. There have been only two homicides so far this month, said Lt. John Harlow of the homicide squad. That's well below the rate in past years, when there was a monthly average of 20 homicides.

"The rate's supposed to be up, but we're being proved wrong," said Officer Jim Battle, a police spokesman. Lt. Darryl Harrison, who collects crime statistics for the department, said he doesn't know what has caused the decrease in crime. "We're all happy about it. We just hope the trend continues."

But the rest of city is acting truer to the usual script for Washington in August, which calls for empty offices, absent politicians, sizzling streets and tropical temperatures.

"It burns your whole body," said Maria Horokopos, a hot dog vendor in her sixth hour of sweltering heat near the corner of Third and C streets NW yesterday. "When it goes up to 100, it really gets bad."

Harokopos, however, is the type of optimist who, faced with uncomfortable circumstances, dreams up a situation that could be worse.

As bad as it gets, she said, she's glad she's working now rather than in the winter. "I can do better with heat than with cold," said Harokopos, as she doled out chilled cans of soda outside the District's Municipal Center. "It's much worse to be freezing than to be sweating."

Harokopos said her business has dropped by almost half in the last two weeks, as the city's inhabitants fled to the beaches and mountains as they have for the last 150 years. "It's just August," Harokopos said.

Those of us left here are facing some of the summer's hottest weather. Temperatures reached the high 90s in downtown Washington yesterday afternoon, 93 degrees at Dulles Airport and 94 at National Airport, according to the National Weather Service.

High temperatures are forecast in the mid-90s today and tomoand up to 100 degrees on Monday and Tuesday. "There's not much relief in sight," said Earl Laws, a Weather Serover Washington, offices are getting by on skeleton staffs, phone messages are stacking up on empty desks, ande in slow motion.

"It's very slow, delightfully slow," said John Spear, administrative aide to Rep. William Hughes, (D-N.J.). "The lobbyists are staying away in droves."