Motorists and bus passengers measured progress in inches and time in hours last night as one of the city's most sevre traffic jams in years followed a day-long snow-storm.

Patience, fortitude and a good push at the right time were essential ingredients of last night's homeward journeys, through streets that became congealed masses of snow, slush and stalled vehicles.

By late last night the moon broke through the clouds, the snowfall diminished and finally stopped, but Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown remained filled with the glare of headlights, the honking of horns, the hissing of tires straining for traction on slush-covered asphalt.

"I've never been in a situation like this in my entire life," said 61-year-old Dr. Fred Branan of Dallas, while stopped at a service station at Wisconsin Avenue and Q Street NW. "Never, never, never."

Dr. Branan had left the Capitol at 4:30 p.m. and in seven hours had traveled less than seven miles. Drivers and passengers on many buses had similar tales to tell.

A D-1 bus left the National Archives at 5:15 p.m. for Glover Park. By 11:30 p.m. it had reached the intersection of 30th and Q streets NW. Bill Green, at the wheel of a D-2, also headed for Glover Park, drove two hours, from 9:45 to 11:45 p.m., to reach Wisconsin and Q from 28th and Q.

Entire timetables of buses could be seen clustered within blocks, icicles dangling from their undersides, grinding, growling and wheezing slowly toward destinations that seemed lost in a snowbound infinity. Some caught in the interminable jam seemed bitter.

Fred Perro, a Control Data Corp. executive from Minnesota, left his company's plant at New York Avenue and L Street NE before 5 p.m. Well after 11 p.m. he was stuck in traffic near Wisconsin Avenue and P Street NW, still about a half mile from his hotel.

He suggested with some asperity that Washington area traffic officials be required to go to Minneapolis for a course in coping with the snow.

Many persons converted last night's hardships into a cause for camaraderie, accepting what could not be avoided, and even at times seeming to enjoy it.

Several citizens took to the slippery streets to direct traffic, deftly detouring weary motorists around the abandoned cars that littered the streets -- hoods up, like the equipment of a defeated army.

"It's been terrible," said James Bowling, standing amid the traffic at 33rd and Q streets. Nevertheless, he seemed to be having fun as he bellowed, "Which way do you want to go?" and "Don't do that to me now" at confused motorists.

Conviviality seemed to reign behind the steamed windows of nearby taverns, and many pedestrians as well seemed in a party mood as they strolled along snow-covered sidewalks.

"Mush!" a girl in a striped ski jacket walking along M Street NW ordered her dog, a sleek black animal that was clearly no husky. "Mush!"

Bill Mager drove downtown from the American University area to pick up his wife. She got home unaided, but he got stuck in traffic. Was he annoyed?

Cars ahead of him were immobile. Cars behind were honking their horns. He laughed. "I still have my sense of humor," he said.