Snow fell for hours here yesterday, accumulating to as much as five inches, but man and nature combined to help Washington area motorists steer clear of the vehicular catastrophe that often accompanies winter storms.

Some minor accidents that might not otherwise have occurred were reported throughout the area, and tow trucks were busy in Fairfax County last night dragging disabled cars from one particularly icy stretch of road.

But officials in several jurisdictions indicated that on a day when snow fell steadily from noon through the evening rush hour and into the night, the number of accidents was not excessive and traffic seemed a little smoother than might have been expected.

"Maybe people finally slowed down," said Sgt. William Lehr of the College Park station of the Maryland State Police.

Indeed, the perception that Washington, after several winter storms this month, might be learning to live with cold precipitation was supported by residents who indicated little antipathy toward the snow and considerable acceptance of it.

"It doesn't bother me," said Rick Reid, 24, a maintenance engineer at 1735 K St. NW. "I like the snow."

Tim Powers of the Dupont Circle area said it did not bother him either. "It's a change," he said. "It's kind of nice to look at."

Lawyer Donna Rubelmann, 26, who was waiting for a bus at 18th and M streets NW, agreed, noting that "at least so far it's come in small amounts." Accumulations during last night's storm and its four predecessors have varied around the area but have seldom exceeded four inches. Andrews Air Force Base reported about five inches last night, Dulles International Airport recorded about four, and the figure at National Airport was 3.6.

As the storm subsided last night, D.C. traffic services chief George Schoene said he expected that major arteries in the city "will be okay" during this morning's rush hour.

He cautioned, however, that despite the salt-spreading efforts of the drivers of 81 trucks mobilized by the city, side streets and residential streets will likely be snow-covered this morning and may be slippery.

Some highway officials in the suburbs were cautiously optimistic on road conditions for this morning.

Such major traffic arteries as Rtes. I-66, 50 and 123, at least where they fell under his jurisdiction, were "reasonably clear" last night, said John Lester of the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation in Centreville.

However, despite the use of 15 trucks, how clear roads would remain in the morning "depends when it quits," Lester said.

In southern Fairfax County, state highway department supervisor Ron Kari said major arteries in his jurisdiction were "great." Rather than snow or slush on I-395, I-95 and I-495, he said, "we've got running water." With four inches of snow predicted as the storm's maximum, he said he was hoping that the worst was over.

Nature, in the form of above-freezing temperatures and residual warmth in the ground, helped to keep snow and even slush from accumulating on area roads until well into the afternoon yesterday.

The conditions of the roads during evening rush hour "were not as bad as envisioned," said the District's Schoene. An officer at the U.S. Park Police communications headquarters said traffic was relatively free of problems, and she gave credit to motorists.

"I think everybody just took their time," said officer Patricia Haynes. After the last few storms, she said, "Everybody was pretty much prepared."

Yet a day here with snow is never a day fully free of disruption. Sections of Oakton Road, Walney Road and West Ox Road were rendered impassable by ice or snow, Fairfax County police said.

They said many cars required towing last night after being disabled by slippery conditions on Hooes Road.