It was beginning to feel a lot like, well, Oct. 18 yesterday, according to meteorologist Andy Woodcock.

Sweating after a morning bike ride, Woodcock tried to figure out what month would better describe the balmy 60-degree temperatures in the Washington area, just 20 days before Christmas.

"September in December?" he wondered. "Really more Octoberish? It doesn't feel much like Christmas, I'll say that."

Checking the record books back at his office at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Woodcock found his answer: Oct. 18, when the average high is 68.

It was definitely an Oct. 18 kind of day at Reagan National and Baltimore-Washington International airports, where the high was 68. The high at Dulles International Airport was 67.

All across the Washington region, residents shed their winter coats. Short-sleeved shirts, shorts, even flip-flops, were the uniform of the day.

"This is ridiculous," said Cara Walsh, 22, heading to her office at the White House to clean up her desk. "I can't believe I'm wearing shorts in December. I'm actually sweating in my T-shirt."

Playing Frisbee on the lawn next to the National Christmas Tree in the District, Michael Garrity, 31, a sales executive who lives on Capitol Hill, was savoring the gentle breeze on his bare arms and legs.

"This is awesome," he said, leaping into the air. "Global warming--bring it on!"

Awesome, but not a record. There was one set a year ago--Dec. 6, 1998--when it was 79 degrees, Woodcock said. Still, it was about 18 degrees warmer yesterday than it normally would be on Dec. 5, when the average high is 50, and the low 34.

All that warmth was the result of a high pressure system sitting off the East Coast, Woodcock said. When that happens, he said, warm air is pumped up from the Southeast.

You may not want to leave your coats at home today, he said, because the forecast includes some rain and cooler temperatures. By tomorrow, it will be sunny again but highs will dip to the upper 40s before climbing up steadily to the 60s by week's end, he said.

"It's pretty goofy," said Woodcock of the warm weather so close to Christmas. "But people are certainly enjoying it."

The new skating rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, which had to delay its opening until Saturday because of unseasonably warm weather, was packing them in yesterday.

"Actually the weather has brought out more skaters," said Kirk Huserik, the rink manager. "People are coming out in their shorts and skating. It's that comfortable."

It was a little wet, but Charise Nichols was glad she brought her two children, 3 and 6, to try out the new rink and listen to Christmas carols belting out overhead."

"A little warm for skating, but it was well worth it," said Nichols, 34, of Arlington. "It's like if it snowed on Easter. It's doable but strange."

Woodcock had to dig a little deeper into his record books, to check out the biggest snowfall for yesterday: 4.5 inches, set 89 years ago. Based on this year's experience, a white Christmas may not be on Washington's horizon.

"It looks like Santa's going to have to put some wheels on that darn sleigh," he said.

CAPTION: Anthony Riggio Jr., center, and Isaih