Washington endured this winter's worst snowstorm over the weekend, but escaped the usual snow-wrought havoc because the storm had the courtesy to avoid the rush-hour traffic.

"I would say the Lord himself shined his light on us because it snowed on Saturday and gave us a day or two to clean up for Monday traffic," said Sam Jordan, acting deputy director at the Mayor's Command Center in the District of Columbia.

Highway officials in the District, Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland all said yesterday that barring severe winds, which could cause drifting, nearly all primary, secondary and subdivision streets should be clear for rush hour this morning.

The National Weather Service yesterday lifted traveler's advisories in the area and predicted clear skies and very cold temperatures today. The chance of more snow is near zero today, and mid-week temperatures will be in the 50s, the weather service said.

But yesterday, there were sharp winds and cold temperatures that hovered in the low 20s throughout the day. The low yesterday was 16 degrees, just 3 degrees warmer than the record low for the date set in 1925.

The storm, which left between 6 and 10 inches of snow here before tapering off early yesterday morning, swung south with a vengeance and dumped up to 18 inches on sections of southeastern Virginia, paralyzing the Norfolk area.

Last evening, with snow falling and being driven by 45-mile-an-hour winds, Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton declared a state of emergency for Richmond, Norfolk, the Tidewater area and other sections hit hard by the storm.

Earlier, city officials in Norfolk, state's largest city, had declared a local emergency and ordered all traffic off the streets except for emergency vehicles. A crowd of about 2,300 persons who attended a late-afternoon circus performance at the city's Scope Coliseum were ordered by police to remain there indefinitely, and it appeared that none would be able to return home before this morning.

In the Washington area, meanwhile, it appeared that most persons would be able to resume normal activities today without much difficulty.

Prince George's County public schools will be closed today, but all others will be open, though with later than usual starting times. Fairfax County schools will open two hours late, with no kindergarten: Arlington and Montgomery County schools will open one hour late; District schools will be open, but a decision on possible late starting times for some will not be made until daybreak. Alexandria schools will open on time.

All federal and local government offices will be open, and employees are expected to report for work on time.

While several hundred snow plows and salt trucks took to the streets here yesterday, many thousands of Washingtonians turned to their closets and pulled out cross-country skis and sleds that had grown dusty through this year's mild winter.

Monte Graham, 35, who works for the Treasury Department and lives on Capitol Hill, skied to the Washington Monument yesterday afternoon. He had to take his skis off to cross main roads and he didn't like it. "Once you're on the move, you kinda just want to open up," said Graham, who was on his skis yesterday for the first time this winter.

The late winter storm also pushed adolescent entrepreneurs out in the streets in search of unshoveled sidewalks. The work was hard and not without its drawbacks.

"How come you always carry the money and I wind up carrying the shovel?" asked Leon Jackson, 13, squinting at his snow shoveling associates on Reed Street in Alexandria.

Theotus Simpson, 14, one of Jackson's partners, said he carries the money because he's the "brains of this outfit. I woof (make the deals) and you work."

Early yesterday morning in Germantown, Md., Greg Shaw awoke to see the snow and decided it didn't look nearly bad enough to change his plans for the day. Shaw, who repairs typesetting equipment for a living, drove 25 miles to the Dubliner bar on Capital Hill, sat down and drank several shots of Old Bushmills Irish Whiskey which he washed down with Guiness Stout beer. "I came in to drink," he said, "the driving part was real easy."

The six inches of snow recorded over the weekend at National Airport raised the season's total to 20 inches, about four inches more than normal for a Washington winter but far less than the 37.8 inches recorded last year. Last year's major storm, which dumped 18.7 inches of snow on Feb. 18 and 19, closed down Washington for two days.

District officials in charge of snow removal, who were overwhelmed by last year's once-in-a-lifetime storm, responded early this weekend, mobilizing more than 250 plows, sand trucks and salt trucks at about 2 p.m. Saturday.

By midday yesterday, the District equipment had cleared all major roads and officials said that nearly all side streets would be cleared by this morning.

Metro buses ran about 15 minutes behind schedule yesterday, while subways were reported running on time. Metro officials said buses and subway trains are expected to be on schedule today.

Outside Washington, at least two deaths were attributed to the storm. Richmond police said they found the bodies of two men who apparently froze to death under snow drifts in two different areas of the city yesterday. Police said it appeared one of the men, who was 67 years old, fell in the snow Saturday night and was unable to get up.

The weekend snowstorm, which pounded central and southeastern Virginia, brought record cold temperatures to Richmond (16 degrees) and bottled up Tidewater cities unaccustomed to heavy snow. Tidewater, which normally gets about 8 inches of snow a year, has now had nearly 38 inches this year.

Police in Norfolk said yesterday that road conditions were so dangerous over the weekend that police cars were ordered to park in the middle of their patrol areas and stay there unless called to an emergency.

Norfolk fire stations were opened as emergency shelters for stranded motorists and pedestrians and city officials authorized the use of ambulances to remove stranded motorists.

The Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach, on a peninsula between Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, was completely cut off, police said. The only contact with the area, where most houses are built on the sand on stilts was by radio to the fire station.

Virginia Beach police in at least one precinct had to abandon their cars and try to find private four-wheel vehicles for transportation.

The storm brought reports of several vessels in need of help at sea, but Coast Guard officials said they were too swamped with calls to give out any details.

Chet Henricks, of the National Weather Service, said the latest storm was caused by the collision of moist air from the South with an unusually strong blast of Arctic air out of Canada. The storm formed over the coast of South Carolina and began moving north on Saturday, Henricks said. Washington escaped deeper snow, Henricks said, because the storm blew out to sea about 100 miles south of the city.

The Catoctin Mountains in western Maryland, which normally receive the brunt of snowstorms that hit the Washington area, escaped with only about 5 inches, but the snow was enough to entice President Carter and his son, Chip, out for some cross-country skiing.

The president and his son, accompanied by Secret Service agents and U.S. Park Service officials on snowmobiles, skied for two hours yesterday.