Children pumped their little legs on swings. Gardeners planted azaleas and lilacs and rose bushes. Mail carriers wore short-sleeved uniforms.

On the 25th day of spring, it finally felt like it.

"After that huge, cold, bitter winter, we finally get to play outside," gushed John Hobson, 8, as he and his sister dug for worms on the front lawn of their Fairfax home. "My dad was rejoicing to mow the lawn."

Temperatures yesterday hit a high of 69 degrees at Reagan National Airport, according to the National Weather Service in Sterling, and are expected to be in the 80s today and tomorrow. But meteorologist Christopher A. Strong cautioned against putting away jackets and sweaters just yet.

"We can certainly get frost and freeze well into May," he said. "I don't really see anything like it in our immediate future . . . but the end of the week will be cloudy, a little more dreary and cooler."

Few want to hear that after a season that had much of the Washington region cooped up for the duration. Strong dubbed it "a solid shot from Old Man Winter," the coldest winter in 25 years and one of the wettest on record. Snow fell on 19 days, yielding the most snow in 70 years.

February was the area's snowiest month recorded by meteorologists at the Weather Service -- and they've been keeping records since 1871.

Not even yesterday's sun could wash away the reminders of the winter just past. Local governments continue to calculate costs of the season's storms and struggle to find funds to pay for snow removal.

And on a day that should have been a run-up to spring vacation, some students were dreading reporting to school an extra day this week to make up for the days when snow canceled classes.

In Anne Arundel County, Ranak Patel, 18, lamented that she will be stuck in a classroom Thursday instead of lounging in the expected sunshine with her friends. "We're ready to get out, and we have to spend one more day at school, "said Patel, a senior at Broadneck High School in Annapolis.

Other districts preserved spring break by tacking extra minutes onto each school day or extending the school year by a few days. Once she returns to school next week, Mitra Shahryary, 17, a senior at Oakton High School in Fairfax County, will have to spend an extra half-hour in school every day. But amid the sounds of laughing children on swings and in the sandlot at Van Dyck Park in Fairfax yesterday, the return to school seemed like a far-off day to Shahryary and her friends.

The park grounds remained spongy and moist from last week's rainfall, so the teenagers laid out a thick, checkered blanket and plopped down to share bologna, turkey and ham sandwiches, barbecue potato chips and canned sodas. At 2 p.m., when the sun was the brightest they'd seen in a long time, they rolled up T-shirt sleeves and pant legs to soak in its rays.

"We're just going to come here every day and picnic this week," Shahryary said. "It was so cold this winter, I couldn't go anywhere. I drank hot chocolate and sat next to the heater."

County governments are still looking for help paying the bills that came with the snow. In Prince George's, which had budgeted $1.2 million for snow removal, the final cost was $4.6 million, said Leslie Messer, maintenance and operations manager for the county's department of public works and transportation.

Because the county is trying to recoup some of that money from the federal government, "some of us are still doing paperwork from the winter," Messer said.

Anne Arundel, which rented 12 front-end loaders from the city of Buffalo during the height of the Presidents' Day weekend storm, overspent its snow removal budget by $3 million. In Montgomery, which used 27,000 tons of salt and 40,000 tons of sand, officials projected that the total would be more than $14 million. Howard County, which dumped 28,000 tons of salt on its roads this winter, overspent its $550,000 snow removal budget by about $1.5 million. Budget officials there are taking money from other departments to help pay for it.

The Virginia Department of Transportation spent more than $140 million to handle the snow and ensuing flooding but had budgeted only $49 million for the endeavor, spokeswoman Joan Morris said.

A tantalizing hint of spring weather in early April gave way last week to day after day of chilly drizzle. Relief came over the weekend, and the mild weather spilled into the work week.

As mail carrier Don Mezera went from house to house yesterday in a Fairfax neighborhood, he couldn't have missed the signs of spring if he'd tried. To get to residents' mailboxes, he dodged bicycles, lawnmowers and flowering pots strewn about front yards.

The warm weather had made some people friendlier, he said, and he felt liberated from the stiff jacket that sometimes slows him down. "Does it get any better than this?" he asked, inviting no contradiction.

But some people, he observed, will never be happy. "Some of them are already saying it's too hot," he said.

Staff writers Christian Davenport and Vikki Ortiz contributed to this report.

Barbara Billings of Falls Church, foreground, and her friend Jane Woodin of Cape Cod, Mass., soak up some spring sunshine next to a bed of tulips at McPherson Square.Ice cream cones in hand, Michael Belliveau, left, and Andy Rozylowicz enjoy the pleasant weather playing games overlooking the water at Annapolis City Dock.