This time, Mayor Marion Barry was in town.

"I got the first call at 6 a.m.," the D.C. mayor said at midday as he set out on an inspection tour of the city and work crews scrambling to keep up with constantly changing forecasts calling for more and more snow.

By early evening, Barry was standing in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue outside the District Building, telling reporters, "I'm very proud of what happened today. We promised the people of this city that we would do better and we've done that. I promised that I would be here and I'm here."

While Barry was visibly in the thick of snow removal efforts yesterday, last January during the city's previous major snowstorm, the mayor was in sunny California at the Super Bowl -- an absence that proved increasingly embarrassing as criticism of the city's snow-fighting efforts piled higher and higher.

Yesterday, the mayor reveled in what appeared to be a coordinated response by the city to a storm nobody saw coming, grateful also that it was a holiday with few commuters and that relatively mild temperatures were preventing major freezing.

Late Tuesday night, Public Works Director John E. Touchstone had declared what he called a modified snow alert and ordered 30 standby crews to report at 1 a.m.

Emergency preparedness director Joseph P. Yeldell, meanwhile, had cut short a long-scheduled private trip to Atlantic City and returned to the District before dawn.

"My reaction was, let's prepare for the worst," Touchstone said later at the snow command center at Reeves Municipal Center, 14th and U streets NW, where he was joined by Barry, Yeldell and emergency preparedness official Sam Jordan.

Despite the city's best efforts, however, many residents faced hazardous conditions, with many streets left unplowed and sidewalks dangerously slippery.

By 5 a.m., Touchstone had called for mobilization of crews to begin spreading salt and sand on bridges and hilly roads.

By midmorning, more than 85 crews were putting abrasive on the streets, and at noon, he ordered full-scale plowing by salting trucks, which had been plowing only in problem areas.

Leaving the Reeves Center, Barry joked with television reporters -- who had hounded him last winter -- and even good-naturedly tossed snowballs at them. The mayor had planned to spend Veterans Day quietly at home, except for an indoor swimming outing with his son, Chistopher.

While cameras rolled, Barry fielded a few telephone calls and even made one to his wife Effi, who spoke to him from a car telephone somewhere along Wisconsin Avenue.

"I think the worst {of the snow} is about over," Barry said in the 12:35 p.m. telephone call.

It wasn't. Less than an hour later, Yeldell and Touchstone declared a snow emergency, meaning that tough policies of ticketing and towing would begin at 8 p.m. That, as most politicians know, meant there would be angry calls from constituents Thursday.

Barry and his top aides for several weeks have been planning the snow response.

In September, Barry appeared at a Robert F. Kennedy Stadium parking lot to watch a snowplow demonstration and unveil a streamlined snow emergency route plan that would leave more space for residential parking and focus emergency efforts on main roads.

He said then he recognized citizens "like to feel the mayor is suffering with them . . . I want to be in the cold with them, feel the pain." Yesterday, he was, though the pain was eased a little by a chauffer-driven four-wheel-drive Jeep.

Barry was asked whether he now believes Washington is a snow town, a reference to his comments last winter when he seemed to dismiss the discomforts of local residents and observed that Washington is not a snow town.

"It looks it," he said. "We will be ready. Rain, shine, sleet or snow, the D.C. government is ready to go."

As late as Monday, city officials went through a mock snow emergency, checking telephone numbers, responding to simulated problems.

But yesterday, the problems were real. Despite early broadcasts that evening rush hour restrictions would be in force on the holiday, many cars still appeared to be parked illegally.

"We've begun ticketing and towing," Yeldell said.

Into the night, the snow center remained alive as consoles of telephones lit up with the latest problems -- too much ice on this avenue or that, abandoned cars, stranded people.

After his tour of all eight wards in the city, Barry said the real test will come during the early rush hour today when the city plans to have most of the snow on emergency routes moved.

"That's what's important," he said.