If Mother Nature was playing a weather trick yesterday, it went over like a treat as temperatures soared to a near-record 82 degrees.
Usually a prelude to winter, late October has so far been a time for jogging in shorts and driving in convertibles. But forecasters caution against being fooled by Mother Nature; the big chill, they say, is right around the corner, with rain and some 50-degree temperatures expected late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
The unusually high recent temperatures have been caused by a large high pressure system over the southern Atlantic that extended into the Southeastern United States, according to Scott Prosise, a spokesman for the National Weather Service. The result, he said, has been "a mountain of air so strong that cold air has not been able to penetrate it."
The record high temperature for the same date was set in 1919 when 87 degrees was recorded, Prosise said. The normal temperatures for this time of year are a high of 64 degrees and a low of 45, he said.
But for the time being, the weather has been near-perfect, apparently postponing the arrival of the wintertime blues.
"I feel so lazy," said Mary Woods as she stretched out on a lawn chair along the banks of the Anacostia River, getting a suntan in October. "It feels so good, but I should have brought some suntan oil."
By early afternoon yesterday Washingtonians were jamming up roads to Hains Point and Rock Creek Park.
"This is my kind of day," Willard Woods said to his wife, Mary. "I wish we had a boat or something, but this will do for now." Woods stretched out his blanket next to his wife's easy chair and lay back to face the sun.
Others chose to begin the last day before the work week by staying in bed a little longer, enjoying the crack of sunlight and balmy breeze breaking in through the bedroom window.
Along Columbia Road, in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood, people in their apartments conversed leisurely with pedestrians strolling lightly along the leaf-strewn streets. A typical discussion concerned the best place to be on a day like yesterday: Some said the park; others said their beds. There was a consensus that work was definitely not the place to be.
"I'd rather be out enjoying the day like everybody else," said an obviously disturbed gas station attendant. "If it's like this tommorrow, maybe I can have some fun."
Along with the technicolored fall foliage and the bright blue sky came an assortment of clouds that filtered the sun, illuminating the Capitol dome and the tip of the Washington Monument while casting deep shadows of the trees on the Mall.
"The air is cleaner and it feels like spring. Everything seems fresher," said Mark Stewart as he fished along the Tidal Basin.
Scores of people gathered on the banks of East Potomac Park and at a duck preserve near National Airport to watch jets take off and land in the brilliant sun.
But by late afternoon those who had been accustomed to the sun and the clock being out of sync realized that standard time had cut an hour off the expected daylight -- and that within a few weeks the darkness and the evening cold will come even more quickly.