A cold front swept down from the north yesterday, stopping cold the springtime fantasies spawned here by two days of unseasonably warm weather.
Yesterday's high temperature, recorded at 11 a.m., was 69 degrees, 10 degrees lower than the warmth that bathed the city Wednesday. Such warm weather probably won't return again to the Washington area until next year, said Bob Oszajca, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.
And the winds, which nearly stripped some trees, dropped the curtain on much of fall's orange and red display. "I would think so," Oszajca said. "You can't put the leaves back on trees."
The highest wind gusts recorded by the National Weather Service were 39 mph at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. At Washington National Airport, winds were clocked at 37 mph.
Although the total weight of its 36,491 blocks of marble and granite is 90,854 tons, even the Washington Monument shifted slightly. Winds reaching 35 mph are enough to make the monument's 18-inch-wide tip sway one-eighth of an inch, according to Joseph Westermeyer, the lead National Park Service ranger at the monument.
In a move not so rare for this time of year -- and intended to decrease government liability in the event of a wind-related accident on the ground -- Park Service officials closed the monument's doors to visitors between 12:15 and 2 p.m., Westermeyer said.
"Winds over 35 miles per hour become a safety hazard on the ground," he said. In the past, "children and smaller adults have literally been blown off their feet."
As the monument's 50 U.S. flags whipped the wind, Lance Cpl. Earl Gordon of the U.S. Marine Corps stood firm -- not in any official capacity, but for the fun of it, as he guided a red, yellow and blue triple kite through wild scoops.
"Really, I've been praying for the wind to come," he said. "This wind right here is really great. I've had it up here for about three hours. Two weeks ago I couldn't even get it up in the air and it was making me mad."
The weather turnabout began at 8:59 a.m., when a wind shift signaled the cold front's arrival. Two minutes later, winds that had been coming in from the south at 5 mph were moving in from the northwest at 16 mph and gusting to 22, Oszajca said.
"When you had the unseasonably warm weather, you had a southerly flow bringing warmer air from the Gulf Coast states," Oszajca said. "We now have northwest winds bringing cold air from the Great Lakes region and southern Canada."
By 4 p.m., the temperatures had fallen eight degrees from the day's high. Temperatures overnight were expected to dip to between 35 and 40, and with winds of up to 25 mph, a wind chill could become a factor.
Today, winds will stream in from the west, but only between 10 and 20 mph. Today's high temperature is expected to be in the middle 50s. Overnight, the temperature will fall to the low to middle 30s.