The first snowflakes of the cold weather season swirled through Washington area skies last night, producing a shiver of anticipation among motorists, but no reported accumulation on the streets.

National Weather Service forecasters predicted that as much as one to two inches of snow might accumulate in the outlying northern and western suburbs, possibly in the area north of Gaithersburg or west of Dulles Airport.

However, forecaster Larry Wenzel said it was unlikely to disrupt traffic this morning.

The long period of warm days in the fall left too much heat in the highways to allow much snow cover to form. The passage of traffic was expected to help melt any slight accumulation that might occur, he said.

Although a rash of accidents was reported in at least one section of Northern Virginia far to the west of Washington, in most places last night's snow, arriving two weeks before the official start of winter, proved more of a spectacle than a nuisance.

"It was coming down real nice," said Keven Sargent, a Laurel police dispatcher.

Starting about 8:15 p.m., when all but the last stragglers of the evening's rush hour had reached their destinations, the skies above Laurel were filled with "about a half hour or 45 minutes of nice, pretty snow," Sargent said.

But, she added, "It all melted when it hit the ground."

In another part of the Maryland suburbs, the first snow arrived as part of a "mixture of light snow and light sleet," according to a state police dispatcher in Forestville.

At 9 o'clock last night, snow was falling at the weather monitoring stations at all three main airports in the Washington metropolitan area.

In some sections of Northern Virginia on the far western fringe of the Washington suburbs, the effect of the snow was more significant.

"We had a whole bunch of wrecks because of the snow," said dispatcher Connie Tinsley of the Culpeper office of the Virginia State Police.

"We had 25 or 30 accidents in one spot" on Rte. 7 at the border between Clarke and Loudoun counties, she said. Although road conditions improved later last night, she said, "For a while we were going crazy."

A few flurries might linger in the area this morning, forecasters said.