Some of the fiercest winds in months ripped across the Washington area during the past two days, tearing down trees, knocking out power and startling many residents.

On Thursday night, as chilling gusts whistled out of the northwest, causing tree branches to toss and pedestrians to falter, instruments at Reagan National Airport measured a gust of 55 mph.

According to a search of National Weather Service records, that gust, recorded at 11:33 p.m., was the strongest reported here in more than 13 months.

The two blustery days came in advance of a winter storm that forecasters said could sweep into the area after midnight tonight, bedeviling Washington with every type of wintry precipitation.

Snow, sleet, rain and freezing rain are all possibilities, the Weather Service said.

The Weather Service issued a winter storm watch and said precipitation could be at its most intense tomorrow, before tapering off into freezing drizzle early Monday.

"There is the potential for significant ice accumulations of a quarter of an inch or more," the notice said.

Last week's snow, sleet and freezing rain slickened streets and roads, impeding surface locomotion and closing most area schools for three days. But forecasts suggest warmer temperatures and faster melting after the new storm. Monday's highs are expected to be in the 40s.

At one point overnight Thursday, the wind cut off electricity to about 10,000 homes and businesses across the area. "We peaked around 9,000," said Bob Dobkin, a spokesman for Pepco, which serves the District and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

By early yesterday, he said, the figure had been slashed to about 1,500. But as winds continued, he said, repair crews found themselves restoring power and, "at the same time, getting new outages."

As a result, the number of those without electricity rose at one point yesterday to about 2,200 or 2,300, Dobkin said.

Electricity was knocked out, he said, by incidents such as the one that occurred Thursday night at 30th and G streets SE. A tree had toppled onto power lines, he said. There were "a lot of wires down" in that area, Dobkin said.

In general, he said, the effects of the winds appeared to be spread relatively equally across the area, with Prince George's County residents possibly affected to a greater extent than those elsewhere.

Winds clawed down wires across the area, and trees toppled. In the District, fire department spokesman Alan Etter said a tree struck an automobile about 5:30 p.m. Thursday at 8th and I Streets NE.

He said a child was examined by rescue personnel in connection with the incident but apparently was not injured seriously.

Etter said about a dozen trees were toppled throughout the city over the two-day period. Perhaps two or three dozen fallen wires were reported, he said.

Georgetown Pike was closed for hours last night in the McLean area. A tree fell across the road, and downed electric lines ignited a grass fire near the intersection with Towlston Road, authorities said.

Numerous trees and branches came down in Montgomery County as well, officials said.

Throughout the area, witnesses reported seeing minor structural damage. In addition to rattling windowpanes and flinging tree branches against windows, the winds pulled siding from a house in Old Town Alexandria, one resident said, causing it to flap wildly against the structure.

The winds were produced by the proximity of zones of high and low pressure, forecasters said. Gusts are measured instantaneously; winds are averaged over two minutes.

Staff writers Bill Brubaker, Carol Hutchinson and Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.