CAPTION: Picture, Recent Washington winters have been relatively mild with few major snowstorms -- unlike 1899, above, which was Washington's snowiest and coldest winter. Its 15 degrees below zero is still the area's record low winter temperature. For this winter, which begins with the solstice on Saturday, the National Weather Service is predicting warmer and wetter than normal weather. It doesn't forecast whether the "wet" will be rain or snow. Over the past 30 years winters here have averaged a little above freezing, 36.3 degrees, with 16.3 inches of snow. Half of the major snowstorms here since 1887, when the weather bureau began keeping records, have come in February. There was only one major snowfall in December, a week before Christmas 1932, and only one in March, in the early spring of 1942. The earliest recorded snowfall in the Nation's Capital came Oct. 10, 1979, the latest on March 30, 1942. David Gustin, lead regional forecaster for the weather service, notes that winters are not the same for all Washington residents. Those living near the "heat island" of downtown Washington and National Airport, where temperatures can be five to 10 degrees warmer than at Dulles International Airport, often get rain while suburban residents get snow. It makes for "tremendous variations in the area snowfall," Gustin said.