"The centers we were watching over the weekend looked like they meant snow for sure, and dropped 16 inches out in Garrett County, Md. But they seemed to use up all their energy just getting over the mounatins."

Actually, it could have been worse. In most areas the snow started about 8:30 a.m., when the bulk of the morning rush hour already was over. Before tailing off to flurries about 3 p.m., it dropped 2 to 3 inches in the eastern suburbs, to 4 in the west.

More than a week of sub-freezing temperatures had left the road surfaces cold and dry and the snow stuck immediately. Melted by auto traffic, it then re-froze as ice. Metropolitan Police, who normally handle about 25 accident reports in a morning, had handled more than 100 before noon.

Dale Schult, a Metrobus supervisor who has worked for Metro and its antecedents for 20 years, said he had never seen such a tangle on such light snow.

Schult used to live in Mineral Point, Wis., and routinely drive through blizzards around Milwaukee. "When I first came here," he said, " . . . I just couldn't believe they got tied up on an inch of snow."

Schult's buses were running more than an hour late in some places.

"It all got behind right there on 13th Street," he said, looking up the slight rise that carries 13th Street north from Pennsylvania. The salt trucks hadn't salted there yet. The buses didn't get down (to the Federal triangle turnaround) so they couldn't get back up (to go back in service).

For those dutifully trying to ride the buses, things were little better. Drivers, exercising their prerogative not to drive under dangerous conditions, simply stopped their buses and let their passengers off.

On Massachusetts Avenue, buses with passengers seemed unable to make it down the hills without sliding, but those with "not but service" signs were making slow but steady progress up the hills back to their car barns.

Out in the suburbs, things were going from bad to worse as the morning progressed, with trucks jacknifing on major highways and cars careering on icy bridges and overpasses.

Virginia State Police reported a 15 car pileup near Woodbridge. Another 20 car piled up on the Capital Beltway near Upper Marlboro, and the George Washington Parkway was a stretch of ice from the Beltway to National Airport.

Meanwhile, Washington's fledgling subway zipped back and fourth space four-mile track, out of reach of the weather and snow-related probelms.

By the evening rush hour, most roads had been salted and cleared, bus service was relatively in schedule and conditions were returning to near normal.

One major event not triggered yesterday was the early release of government workers, which at times can snarl Washington traffic as badly as a snowstrom.

Three years ago, during a 9-inch snowfall in December, government agencies were closed early only to stand around in the snowfall outside: Metro had not been alerated so that rush hour bus schedules could he changed.

A Civil Service spokesman said yesterday that early dismissals have been discontinued as a general practice since the "horrible snafu" the day before Kennedy's inaugeration.

"Public transportation," he said, "is too hard to mobilize."

The early dismissal decision, apparently, is one of the biggest in Washington - the result of a protracted conference involving spokesmen from the D.C. Transportation Department, the Weather Service, Metro, the Mayor's Office and the Civil Service Commission.

The Civil Service Commissioner then makes a recommendation to the White House, Ultimately, the President himself decides whether to turn Washington's 350,000 government workers out into the cold.

Yesterday's snow caught hundreds of late-morning commuters and shopers on the suddenly formidable bills of Virginia Rte. 7. Leesburg Pike, the main corridor route of northern Fairfax County.

Most of the cars had neither snow times nor chains. Some got stuck trying to accelerate from a standing start on an icy hill. Others slid slowly into ditches trying to go around immobile vehicles.

To the west, a 20 ton fire truck lumbered around a curve and into a ditch en route to a smoke complaint. Only the fire truck was hurt. It suffered about $5,000 damage.

"The road weren't nothing ice," said William Spalding, a captain with the Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department.

At 11:30 a.m., Evelyn Williams, 19, of Springfield, sat in her car in mid-snarl at Quincy Road and Columbia Pike.She had been trying since 7 a.m. to get to class at Control Date Institute.

When she left home, she said, there was no snow and it she had known what was coming she never would have left. She had a new car and only one previous experience driving in snow, and planned to wait out her present terror until police told her to move.

Not everyone took such a dim view of the weather.

Joseph S. Asin, 42, a policy apalyst at the Federal Aviation Administration, was out on his thrice weekly jog from the FVV building on Independence Wenue to the Lincoln Memorial. The snow he said makes jogging "more enjoyable . . . It's a matter of esthetics."

Nancy Resnick an employee at the National Association of Letter Carriers spent her lunch hour skating on the reflecting pond in front of the Capitol, happy to have the ice to herself in the falling snow.

Over at the National Gallery of Art, the lines for the Egyption exhibit were even longer than usual for a week day, according to security guard R. Allen.

"Everybody thought nobody else would be here because of the snow," he said. "So they all came."

Elsewhere on the cultural front, Bowie Rare Course in Maryland and Dover Downs in Delaware scratched their Wednesday race cards because of the snow, Bookies wept.

Things should be somewhat better today for both horses and people. The Weather Service is calling for partly sunny weather with highs from 38 to 42. But tonight there is a "30 per cent chance of snow . . . changing to rain Friday," and if another low pressure area develops somewhere or the snow doesn't change to rain or the Weather Service is, somehow, not quite right, then we may go through this all once again and prove once again that Kennedy was right about Washington.