Early yesterday, in a brief battle dramatizing metropolitan Washington weather at its schizophrenic best, spring fought winter. Guess which won.

Unseasonably warm temperatures Monday, complete with clear skies and gentle breezes, suddenly were replaced early yesterday by an unseasonably cold, rainy blast of Canadian air, which sprinkled the first bits of snow across parts of the area.

Snow flurries were reported late yesterday afternoon in Howard County and at Andrews Air Force Base, the first of the season for the metropolitan area. The National Weather Service said it expected most of metropolitan Washington to witness snow flurries mixed with rain today, but no snow was expected to accumulate and no specific amount was predicted.

The sudden weather change was caused by a cold front that moved across the eastern United States from Canada, slicing area temperatures almost in half in 24 hours. National Airport recorded a high temperature of 72 degrees Monday afternoon, but thermometers dipped to 38 degrees by the same time yesterday and the cold was coupled with wind gusts that reached 30 miles an hour. Temperatures were expected to drop near freezing last night.

Western Maryland was hit hardest by the cold front, according to the Weather Service. More than nine inches of snow had been recorded in Garrett County by late last night.

The steady rain accompanying the cold front is expected to end tonight, Meadows said. Nearly an inch of rain was recorded at locations across metropolitan Washington yesterday, he said. Light rain, possibly mixed with sleet or snow, was expected to fall early today.

Area weather is expected to remain chilly at least through tomorrow, then become mild as the cold front leaves. Today's forecast calls for temperatures hovering in the low 40s, with lows near freezing and winds gusting from 15 to 25 miles an hour.

Tomorrow's forecast, Meadows said, calls for clear skies, high temperatures in the upper 40s, and low temperatures in the high 30s.