Kites soared, Frisbees flew and people shucked winter togs for T-shirts and shorts yesterday, as spring made an untimely appearance in the Washington area, pushing temperatures to a record-breaking 66 degrees.
Winter-weary Washingtonians flocked to wherever they could savor a taste of the aberrant weather. For some that meant the ice cream parlor, and Jeffrey's in Bethesda reported 31 cones sold by just after noon -- three times the number for a usual winter morning. For others it meant a quiet moment in Lafayette Square, where Larry Abraham read his paper and basked in the sun.
For still others, it meant activity, and the Mall was filled with football players, Frisbee tossers, bike riders and dog walkers. At Metropolis Bike and Scooter on Capitol Hill, it looked like spring, with folks in line seeking rentals or service on their own bikes. At the Hains Point golf course at noon, there already was a one-hour wait to tee off.
"This is sooo refreshing," said Peggy Pridemore, as she skated on roller blades around the Washington Monument and tossed back her head to take in more sun. "I can just feel the Vitamin D soaking into my skin."
Weather forecasters predicted two more days of balmy temperatures, with highs in the mid- to upper sixties. By Wednesday, however, the mercury should start to drop.
The reprieve from winter came thanks to a retreat of the jet stream into Canada and mild air blowing in from the south and southwest, according to Ken Reeves, of Accu-Weather in State College, Pa.
At Dulles International Airport, the temperature soared to 66 degrees, breaking the record of 59, set in 1983, according to the National Weather Service. At National Airport, the temperature reached 64, falling one degree short of the record, set in 1927.
Despite the glorious weather, several people said it was hard to put the Persian Gulf War out of their minds.
"Even on a nice day like this it kind of comes back to you," said Keith Conway, of Capitol Hill, as he traveled by the Washington Monument on roller blades. "We should have given the sanctions time to work before we went to war."
Across the street, Roger Gay, of Herndon, worked to keep a kite in the air and mused about the war as strains of "America the Beautiful" wafted over from a rally on the Ellipse. Gay said he was glad to see the rally "in support of the guys over there."
By most counts, the mood around town was as sunny as the weather, as tourists and residents flocked outdoors in droves.
Restaurant patios were swamped. "Everyone is very friendly, very happy," said Frauke Morgan, at La Brasserie, on Capitol Hill. "There are even some bees out, but nobody seems to mind."
At the National Zoo, an exuberant employee reported, "We have millions of people, three or four times as many as normal." And Rachel Schulder, a tourist from New York City, said, "Everyone from kangaroos to panda bears was out sunning themselves. It was beautiful."
Nearly 3,500 had gone through the Washington Monument by midday, compared with about 1,500 on most winter days. The story was the same at Manassas National Battlefield Park, where rangers reported 200 visitors by noon.
"People come out of the woodwork with cabin fever when the weather is like this," Park Ranger Jim Burgess said.
For some, the weather was an excuse to avoid work.
Kim Meyer and Rob Hanson, both young lawyers at Arnold & Porter, jogged on the Mall.
"We're prolonging going to work," said Meyer, who admitted that there was plenty waiting for them at the office.
"We are procrastinating," said Christine Bianculli, a junior at Catholic University, as she tossed a Frisbee with friends.
"Yeah, this is definite stress relief from studying," said her classmate, Laura Rosage.
But not everyone was enjoying the weather.
Taxi driver Don Ejelnu was cruising downtown looking for fares -- without much luck.
"The bad thing," Ejelnu said, "is that when the weather is this nice, people walk."