The sun came out and the winds relented yesterday, luring scores of optimistic joggers, walkers and cabin-fever victims to Washington's parks and monuments in hopes of finding a break in winter's siege. What they found was lean and brief.
Temperatures climbed reluctantly from the 20s to the upper 30s under pale blue skies, marking the 34th consecutive day with subfreezing readings and leaving long-accumulated ice and snow pretty much in place.
The sun, shine though it did, was unable to take the bite out of the chill. What's more, forecasters say more is on the way. Rain is expected tonight and tomorrow, with temperatures reaching the 40s during the day. But by Wednesday, nighttime temperatures are expected to fall to the 20s, and they are even expected to reach into the teens next week. Little rain or snow is expected after Wednesday.
Yesterday, hundreds of area residents rushed to take advantage of the short-lived break in the weather, flocking to the Lincoln Memorial, the C&O Canal towpath and Rock Creek Park. Skaters played impromptu games of hockey on the still-frozen canal. Visitors huddled in overcoats at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A few hardy souls whacked away at golf balls on the tundralike fairways at Hains Point.
On the Potomac River, frozen across in parts, several adventurers were reported cavorting on the ice near the Three Sisters Islands at Georgetown. D.C. police dispatched a helicopter to warn them off the ice, but by the time it arrived, the group had returned to the shore.
"You got to be a fool to be out there with that fast running water under the ice," said Officer Gregory Curtis of the police harbor branch.
Winter's start this year was late after record-breaking warmth in December. But then it set in with a vengeance. According to National Weather Service figures, temperatures have been below normal for 31 of the first 41 days of 1985, bottoming out at a record-breaking 4 degrees below zero on Jan. 21. January as a whole averaged 30.8 degrees, 4.4 degrees below normal.
The official thermometer at National Airport has hit the freezing mark or below every day since Jan. 8 -- 34 consecutive days -- still a good distance from the record of 48 days set in 1977, but unpleasant enough. Regular doses of sleet and snow have added to the general misery. Most roads are clear, but many sidewalks remain locked in ice, creating hazards for pedestrians.
Elsewhere in the nation, a massive storm that had dumped heavy snow over the Rocky Mountains moved into the Midwest yesterday. Winter storm watches were posted from Oklahoma to northern West Virginia.
Freezing rain and snow fell yesterday from the mid-Mississippi valley to the Great Lakes, and another Pacific storm system prompted storm watches for today in parts of Oregon, Idaho and Washington state.
Temperatures in the nation yesterday ranged from 25 degrees below zero in Williston, N.D., to 76 degrees in Brownsville, Tex., and Key West, Fla.