A CERTAIN key figure in the eye of the storm Wednesday looked out over the snow-covered locale and said: "I think it's fair to say we really blew this one. We're telling people we are not perfect and we feel bad like everyone else." No, it was not Marion Barry, former roving ambassador to California. This time the mayor was home for the holiday -- and leading the municipal charge against the elements. The apology was from a forthright forecaster with the National Weather Service, who added, "No one likes to blow a forecast like this." Having botched a prognosis or two ourselves, we know the feeling; and having let fly at the mayor for his no-show last January, we note his considerable and useful presence on Wednesday.

In fact, this time things went better in town than in the suburbs. True, the mayor had a lot of breaks. The city streets and the air downtown were far warmer than in January, the city schools were closed for the holiday, and government workers weren't crowding the roads in -- and then right back out -- as had happened in January. And true, there were complaints from city residents about uncleared side roads, buses that never showed up and ticketed cars.

But if schoolchildren in the city had been stranded in classrooms and school buses, out of touch for the rest of the day and in many instances overnight -- as they were in the suburbs of both Maryland and Virginia -- the local and national uproar would have been spectacular. If the roads in the city had been as impassable as some of the highways in the two states or as alarmingly jammed as the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Mr. Barry would have had more than a little explaining to do.

The mayor was lucky, for sure. But the city did mobilize. Plows were out early. At noon, officials did declare rush-hour restrictions in effect for the afternoon. At 2 p.m. snow-emergency parking restrictions were announced to begin at 8 p.m. That and some ticketing and towing cleared major arteries for curb-to-curb plowing -- and a reasonable rush hour the next morning.

Will still better regional responses be in the offing next time? They surely should be -- but that's one prediction the best forecasters in the business wouldn't touch with a 10-foot shovel.