Washington's current cold wave sent temperatures back toward zero again yesterday and provided new measures to conserve dwindling fuel supplies that will close some area schools, libraries and businesses and severely curtail retail shopping hours in Virginia.

The most drastic step to conserve natural gas was taken by Virginia Gov. Mills E. Godwin. He declared a state of emergency in Virginia that restricts the operation of most retail businesses to 40 hours of a week, for at least the next two weeks.

Some large chain stores in Virginia immediately announced radical adjudgments in their hours with many of them choosing to close entirely on Tuesdays and eliminate on hours on other days. Other businessmen seemed [LINE ILLEGIBLE] confused by the gove [WORD ILLEGIBLE] order and had not decided how to alter their schedules. Some suggested that layoffs, or at least smaller paychecks, were inevitable as a result of reduced operating hours.

Gov. Godwin's order will not affect hospitals, nursing homes, public lodgings, emergency medical services or the sale of prescription drugs. Aldo exempt are transportation services, and garages and gas stations locatedwithin three meiles of interstate highways.

It was the second major fuel conservation action taken in the last two days in the area. On Friday, the Washington Gas Light Co. issued a cutback request to all commercial and industrial customers except "essential" human services.

In response to that request, school officials in Arlington announced yesterday that all county public schools will be closed Monday. Schools in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Church will be closed Monday and Tuesday. Individual schools in other jurisdictions will also be closed Monday as will public libraries in Fairfax County, Fal Church and Montgomery County.

There was also widespread confusion among many area businesses as to exactly what the gas company's order meant. While some businesses were not sure whether complinace was voluntary or mandatory, others were uncertain as to what category they belonged in and were reporting themselves in compliance with thermostats set as high as 70 degrees.

Although compliance with the company's curtailment request is voluntary, company spokesmen warned that failure to comply may mean that it will have to cut off power to whole portions of the city and its suburbs.

The Washington Gas Light action excluded homes, apartments, hospitals, day care centers, lodging, restaurants, food processors and other "essential" operations. All other customers are required to lower their thermostats to the minimum required for maintenance of their buildings and plants.

The Washington area's latest bout with the cold front from Canada that slammed the city Friday should continue through Wednesday, according to National Weather Service forecasters. Yesterday's high temperature was 20 degrees at 3:15 p.m. while the lowest point reached on the thermometer was 8 degrees at 3:45 Saturday morning.

The record-breaking winter has brought that blizzards that have virtually paralyzed cities such as Pittsburgh and Buffalo and caused massive layoffs in heavily industrialized areas. In the Washington area, where industry is relatively light the cold weather's impact has been primarily on fuel supplies.

Colder temperatures have meant heavier fuel use in order to maintain the same inside tempertures. When the mercury plummeted on Friday, Washington Gas Light Co. officials said they were informed by their suppliers that the demand for gas exceeded the ability of the pipelines feeding Washington to get it here and the curtailment was ordered.

Business in the Northern Virginia area depend on energy sources other than natural gas could rest relatively easy until Godwin's order yesterday. Godwin said he had included all sources of fuel in his rationing plan in order to prevent businesses from possibly creating a general shortage of other fuel sources by switching to heating devices such as small electrical heat generators.

Saying that prolonged cold weather has created a "resource shortage," the governor also ordered retailers to set thermostats at 65 degrees or less during business hours and at "maintenance levels" at other times. Maintenance levels have been interpreted to mean 50 to 55 degrees.

Although Godwin he is counting on voluntary compliance, violation of the order is a misdemeanor. State and local law enforcement officials will make "spot checks" of retailers to see it they are in compliance, he said.

Stanley Ragone, senior vice president of Virginia Electric and Power Co., the state's largest electric utility, said yesterday that while Vepco fully suports Godwin's action, the winter's record demand on electric power is well within the utility's total generating capacity. He also said that the company is experiencing no supply shortages of coal, unclear fuel and heavy oil used to generate electricity.

Whatever they do for fuel conservation, Godwin's order and Washington Gas Light Co.'s curtailment requests have generated kilowatts of confusion and uncertainty. Area governing bodies and commercial establishments met throughout the day in order to cope with it.

A Washington Gas Light Co. spokesman said yesterday that company officials made calls to 2,000 of the company's largest customers yesterday morning to make sure they understood the order and were planning to comply with it. A check of gauges in the area yesterday indicated "an appreciable drop" in the amount of gas being consumed, the spokesman said.

The spokesman said, however, that precise figures on gas consumed would not be released for fear that customers would interpret the drop to mean "that the crisis was over."

Godwin's order further complicated the situation, according to a Washington Gas Light spokewoman. "Of course we're glad Godwin did what he did," she said, "but it makes for a very mixed-up situation." While Godwin ordered thermostats in retail establments throughout the state set at 65 degrees during their 40-hour work weeks, she explained, the order does not change the Washington Gas Light Co.'s request that all nonessentail gas-heated establishments keep the thermostats down to a 50-degree maintenance level. "The two actions are completely separate," she said. "But I don't think too many people are going to understand that."

Safeway food stores in Virginia, for instance, provided one example of how the confusion works. According to a company spokesman, all Virginia Safeway stores will be closed Sundays beginning today. The stores will operate on reduced hours for the rest of the week: noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Thermostats, however, will be at 65 degrees, despite the fact that food stores are among those which, according to the Washington Gas Light director, are supposed to keep the temperatures down to maintenance level - 50 to 55 degrees.

In addition, Godwin's action appear to put Northern Virginia retailers at a commercial disadvantage. While they will be covered by the 40-hour limit, their competitors in Maryland and the District will not be. Large shopping centers such s Tysons Corners, Landmark Springfield Mall use only electric power and were facing no cutbacks because of fuel shortage. Nevertheless, area merchant's seem to be taking the competitive disadvantage in stride.

"When you're not open, sure it's going to hurt business, especially with a competitor like Maryland 'nearby," said Tony Caggiano, vice president and general manager of Springfield Mall. "But we have an obligation to the community and the state. The profitability aspect has to be secondary." Besides, he added, "we'll make more friends that we thanby not complying."

Several large stores in the area had revised their hours by yesterday with some, such as Woodward and Lothrop and the Hecht Co., closing their Virginia stores all day Tuesday, traditionally the slowest shopping day.

Roy Page, president of the Northern Virginia chapter of the Gasoline Retailers' Association and the owner of an Arlington gas station, said employee layoffs at some stations are "very possible" because of Godwin's order.

"We're used to working 16 to 24 hours a day," said Page, whose station is not within three miles of an interstate highway. "It will be difficult to make the adjustments." Page said he is considering closing the station one day a week, reducing hours on the other days and changing his employees' paychecks accordingly. "I just have no other choice," Page said.

Government officials in the District and Prince George's and Montgomery counties are largely adopting a wait'and-see attitude about the current cold wave.

Officials in those jurisdictions are ordering thermostats in governments buildings turned down to 65 degrees during the business day and lower during the evening and urging businesses and citizens to do likewise.

But, beyond the closing of libraries and two recreation centers in Montgomery County for Monday and Tuesday, the shifting of students from some natural gas-heated schools in all three jurisdictions, officials are putting off the drastic steps Virginia has taken.

After District government and school officials met yesterday with gas company and federal energy officials, Mayor Walter E. Washington issued a statement ordering most city government offices to keep their thermostats at 65 degrees during the day and at minimally safe levels during nonbusiness hours, and to reduce business hours to no more than eight hours daily.

But Washington also said the gas company needs to "provide far greater information than it has" regarding possible gas shortages so that officials can have definite information on which to base their actions.

A spokesman said the city's recreation buildings and two recreation buildings were closed Friday night by that department's director because of the weather situation.

The spokesman said any citizens needing emergency assistance should call the mayor's command center at 629-5151, which will be open 24 hours a day.