The impact of the prolonged freeze intensified in the Washington area yesterday as the Washington Gas Light Co. extended its gas curtailment program through Saturday and businessmen predicted some layoffs and financial losses as a result of mandatory conversation measures in Virginia.

Despite a National Weather Service forecast of a week's weather in which temperatures may actually hit the 44-degree average high for this time of year, a spokesman for the company that supplies Washington Gas Light with its natural gas said yesterday that it has extended the curtailment - which began Saturday morning and was to last at least through Tuesday - in part as a precautionary measure.

"We want to be certain that we can get the gas out at the rate we think we will," said Tom Ryan, a spokesman for Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., Washington's principal supplier. "We want to see whether our customers will be able to keep their low-priority users off the line."

Compliance with the curtailment request among nonessential natural gas customers so far has been "very good," according to Charles Kraulter, a Washington Gas Light spokesman. Natural gas use has been down about 10 per cent since the request went into effect, he said. On Saturday, Krautler said, the metropolitan area used about 722 million cubic feet, 80 million cubic feet less than normal for a Saturday at this time of year.

Nevertheless, Krautler said, the drop in use "really should have been more, and Washington Gas Light officials will continue to call major customers to seek their compliance." In addition, Krautler saidM the company will do "some spot-checking" to see if nonessential customers are actually turning building thermostats down to the minimum necessary to protect building facilities - about 50 to 55 degrees.

Late yesterday Gov. Godwin informed President Carter by telegram that 30,000 to 40,000 people may already be unemployed throughout Virginia as a result of the long, cold winter and dwindling fuel supplies. That figure is not related to layoffs predicted as a result of Godwin's conservation measures.

Godwin's telegram was in reply to a message sent by Carter to eastern states for information on their problems Godwin's telegram also referred to a "possible exhaustion to fuel oil with five to 10 days" in Virginia.

He said one-third of the state's schools have been closed because of weather and fuel shortages.

Most of Godwin's information pertains to developments in parts of the state, remote from the Washington area.

Washington Gas Light Co.'s curtailment request is the only fuel conservation measure that affects the entire Washington metropolitan area. Virginia businesses, however, must wrangle with the effects of Gov. Mills E. Godwin's emergency order that directs most store owners to cut back to a 40-hour week.

Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel yesterday invoked "limited short-term emergency powers" to deal with his state's difficulties. The measures included cutting back lighting on highways, shopping centers and outdoor malls, permitting the burning of some "dirty" sulfur oil and lowering temperatures in state buildings.

The governor also gave permission for oil tanker trucks to increase the allowable weight of their loads from 72,000 to 80,000 pounds.

At the same time, Mandel stressed that the "major thing" to be done is voluntary, turning down home thermostats to at most 65 degrees.

Store owners and merchants with operation in Virginia were critical of the Godwin order yesterday and predicted that it would have dire consequences on both profits and their employees' paychecks.

Leonard Kolodny, spokesman for some 250 retail merchants with 1,500 stores in the metropolitan area, predicted that the sharply curtailed business hours will result in losses "in the millions of dollars.

"We're not going to know what (ultimate) impact this is going to have," Kolodny said. "We have no idea. But when stores start going out of business" in the future, he said, it may be possible to look back and say, "this was the year that broke the camel's back."

Kolodny attacked Godwin's state of emergency, saying "The whole state should not have been affected by this emergency reduction. I think he has done what he felt was important to the state of Virginia, and in certain portions of Virginia that was critical.

"If it was critical in the Northern Virginia suburbs, fine. If we had had a major snowstorm and oil companies couldn't make deliveries, fine," Kolodny said. "I've been told the Tidewater area is in really terrible shape, but Northern Virginia compared to the Tidewater is night and day."

Kolodny said area merchants were particularly upset that shopping centers such as Tysons Corner, which is heated by oil rather than natural gas, are included in a restriction of business hours designed to conserve natural gas.

Kolodny, who is manager of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade's retail bureau, also said the alteration in business hours could lead to the laying off of a "great many full-timers and part-timers.

"In addition," said Kolodny, "there are a great number of people involved in the supportive trades who will be affected, people who normally deliver to the retail stores, people who sell. If you sell to a store and a store is only going to be open a certain number of hours you're not going to reach all your stores.There's a domino effect," he said.

Although area-wide estimates of potentials loss and employee layoffs are still speculative at this point individual store owners and managers began to tally up the immediate future yesterday and rang up both in their forecasts.

"I tell you what will kill me," said Ben Hayman, president of Hayman's Fashion Shops in Alexandria. "It's being closed on Sunday." Hayman said he will probably lay off at least eight people between his two stores and ask other employees to work a sixth day in order to keep their paychecks at their current level. Hayman also said he expected to lose about 15 to 20 per cent of his business because of Godwin's order. "It's unfair," he said. "This thing is crazy."

At the Bowl America in Fairfax Circle yesterday, management trainee Robert L. King sat in his overcoat.The lanes are open evenings only now and will be closed on Saturday. At this point, King said, "we're just accommodating most of our leagues only."

Losses suffered by area chain stores will depend in part on how many customers transfer their business from Northern Virginia outlets to stores in the District and Maryland, where the hours will remain the same.

According to Milton Thaler, a spokesman for the Hechinger's chain, which has 17 stores in the metroplitan area, the 40 hours that the stores in Virginia will be open usually account for 60 to 75 per cent of their business. If the remaining 25 to 40 per cent of the business is not made up at other stores in the chain, he said, the operation stands to lose as much as $253,393 per week because of the curtailed hours.

Many store owners in Northern Virginia who depend on Fuel sources other than natural gas appeared somewhat mystified yesterday over why they too had to curtail hours when there is reportedly no shortage of other fuel sources.

Godwin said Saturday, however, that he 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 electric heat generators.

In the District, official actions aimed at dealing with the fuel shortage were relatively mild as officials maintained a wait and see attitude. City officials are meeting this morning with representatives of Washington Gas Light to "evaluate the effectiveness of the current policy and to see where we go from here," said George Rodericks, head of the D.C. Office of Emergency Preparedness.

So far, Mayor Walter Washington has ordered thermostats in District government buildings to be set at 65 degrees and restricted city government offices to eight-hour work days. Thermostats in the two city government buildings heated by natural gas, Rodericks said, would be set at the minimum required to ensure the protection of the physical plant.

According to Ryan, spokesmen for Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., the Washington area fuel shortage is caused by increased demand on the natural gas in storage fields in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York.

Gas stored underground during the warm spring and summer months, Ryan explained, accounts for about one-third of the gas delivered to customers such as Washington Gas Light Co. in the five months from November to March. Because of the increased heating demands of this bitterly cold winter, he said, the stored gas has been used up at a much faster rate than normal. The amount of stored gas remaining as of yesterday, he said, is the amount normally left by about April 5 in a typical winter.

Columbia cannot make up for the depletion in its storage gas by obtaining more "flowing" gas from its suppliers in Texas. Ryan said, because that gas is allotted to them on an annual contract and cannot be increased during the year.

Columbia did receive permission from the Federal Power Commission to buy 15 billion cubic feet of Canadian natural gas about two weeks ago. Meanwhile the company has been scouring the Southwest for any additional emergency rations it can find.