The main thing about the light showers that covered much of the Washington region yesterday was that light showers really did cover much of the Washington region. Forecasters had predicted that the rain would slide off to the east, with at most a few sprinkles here.

But they were wrong, to the great delight of farmers and backyard gardeners frustrated by the year-long drought.

"It's great to see it. It's not a lot, but we are grateful for what we've got," said Rick Nelson, of Princess Anne on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

"We were getting to the critical point," said Nelson, who farms about 120 acres and raises wheat, corn and soybeans. "Corn was starting to show some signs of being stressed, and I know some people put off planting beans, waiting to see if we'd get any rain." Rain that fell the previous Sunday was welcome, too, he said.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service had predicted it would be cloudy and overcast yesterday.

"We just didn't expect [the rain] to come inland as far as it has," said Trina Heiser, a Weather Service technician.

If farmers' joy yesterday was a little muted, it was because the most rain fell in the Washington-Baltimore corridor rather than to the west and east, where much of the region's agriculture is located.

Many rural areas received, at most, 0.1 to 0.3 inches of rain yesterday, forecasters said, while the more developed parts of the region got half an inch or more. By midafternoon, Reagan National Airport had recorded 0.43 inches of rain, while at Dulles International Airport, 0.73 inches of rain had fallen, and at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, 0.65 inches.

"All it did was drizzle a little," said Chip Planck, who farms in Purcellville. "It hasn't made much difference."

Planck said the drought has caused some transplant loss and smaller-than-usual strawberries, "but mostly it just means we have to be more diligent about irrigating."

The severe lack of rain so far this year has raised concerns about the region's water supply, vexed farmers and sickened lawns and shrubs. Some towns have imposed mandatory water-use restrictions.

Spring rainfall has been about half of the typical eight inches, and last month's 1.28 inches made for the driest May on record, according to the National Weather Service. Even counting yesterday's showers, only about 1.5 inches of rain has fallen at National Airport this month, short of the 2.5 inches of a more typical June.

Yesterday's rain may not have amounted to much, but it made a big difference to backyard gardeners.

Cascades of water fell around a happy Maggie Knutson, 50, who stood under a blue umbrella at the Merrifield Garden Center in Virginia, clutching a diagram of everything she wants to plant outside her new home in Arlington.

"Today is great because it's Father's Day and it's raining and I've got the place to myself," said Knutson, who was as happy about the prime shopping conditions as she was the nourishing rain.

Larry Brooks wasn't about to let a little rain stop him from showing a visiting friend the sights of Washington. Besides, the rain was needed, he said, as the group prepared for a walk on the Mall.

"I'm happy--we definitely needed it," said Brooks, of Alexandria. He said the drought had meant slim pickings at the farmers' markets he visits along Route 1.

"It's been very bad for the fruits and vegetables," he said.

The drizzle that fell much of the day across the area was welcomed even by those who aren't worried about crops or shrubs.

"For soccer playing, it's great," said Tarik Nabi, of Northern Virginia, who was playing soccer on the Mall. "You feel much less tired."

His teammate, Abdennour Azedine, agreed. "It's not bad at all--especially when it stops and starts like this," Azedine said. "It's better than playing in the heat."

The rain did keep down the number of fans on hand to watch. The grand total of spectators for yesterday was three--including one baby.

District resident Cynthia Johnson was enjoying a leisurely jog on the Mall. Johnson said she runs year-round, so a little rain is no big deal. She found it refreshing.

"It really feels kind of nice," Johnson said as she took a break near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Most people conceded that the rain was needed, even if it meant that their weekend activities suffered because of it.

"I think it's good because we really needed it," said Joe Huntington, of Largo, as he fished in a pond on the Mall.

Huntington and some friends had intended to take their scooters out to Annapolis for an afternoon ride but changed their plans after the rain started.

"Hey, fish bite in the rain, so it's not that bad," said Huntington, who already had snagged a nice-size bass.

"Well, it came at the wrong time for me," said his friend Eric Thomas, more upset by the fact that he hadn't gotten a bite than he was by the rain.

Another member of the group, Chang Suh, decided to join Thomas and Huntington when the rain scuttled his golfing plans. "You can't golf in the rain, but you can fish," Suh said. "I guess we really can't complain."

The rain was blamed for a number of fender benders, including one that spawned a two-mile backup in westbound traffic along Route 50 in Anne Arundel County.

Showers were forecast for today, but by week's end, the rain may be but a distant memory.

"Sorry," said forecaster John Billet. "We don't believe there's any rain left over."

Staff writers Victoria Benning and Justin Blum contributed to this report.

CAPTION: Fans huddle under their umbrellas to watch the girls game of the Border Cup Youth Soccer Finals in Woodbridge.