Lowell Rector, the manager of Boss Shepherds restaurant on 17th Street NW, couldn't stop smiling last night as he surveyed the 20 customers sitting at outdoor tables, taking in the balmy February breezes.

"From 3:30 on we've been going strong," Rector said at 8 p.m. "It's been a really great happy-hour crowd."

The third consecutive day of warm weather brought similar scenes throughout the area yesterday. Some ate and drank outdoors, others played Frisbee or jogged, and some just walked slowly and soaked up the warmth.

"It's sort of pre-spring fever," said Kim Neale, 24, of Dupont Circle, as she sipped a beer at the Fox and Hound at 17th and Q streets NW. "Everybody's pretty silly in the office."

The temperatures reached 70 degrees at National Airport yesterday, tying the record set in 1890. At Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the thermometer hit 73 degrees, breaking the 1965 record of 57 degrees at Dulles and the 1962 record of 67 at BWI.

Meteorologists credited high-level wind patterns with trapping warm air in the region. But they said the respite from winter weather would end today, with light rain off and on into the evening and daytime temperatures in the upper 50s.

By the weekend, National Weather Service forecaster Amet Figueroa said, the high temperature will hover in the 40s once again.

Area residents seemed eager to make the most of the streak while it lasted. Rick Estridge, 22, spent the day waiting on tables outdoors at the Washington Harbour restaurant in Georgetown, then went to Boss Shepherds while it was still warm enough to sit outside.

"There's been nothing on TV but news updates" about the Persian Gulf War, Estridge said. "It's been good to get outdoors."