Paul Anthony, WDVM-TV's Channel 9 weekend weather forecaster, jokingly told viewers Saturday night he was so confident the District would get less than an inch of snow, he'd be on the first train out of town if he was wrong.

"I tried to leave Sunday morning," said a mock-sheepish Anthony yesterday, "but the trains weren't running."

As Anthony was quick to point out, he had lots of company among his fellow video prognosticators who generally failed to foresee the magnitude (seven inches at National Airport) of the area's first, startling snowfall of the season. "If this was a crime," Anthony laughed, "there were plenty of accomplices."

Anthony is not a meteorologist. But on Channel 7, WJLA-TV's Allen Eustis, who is, fared little better. "I'm not proud," said a mildly defensive Eustis yesterday. "By our late newscast, I was calling for two to three inches in the city and half a foot in the far reaches of Prince George's County. I was off by about four inches and about 50 miles."

Jackie Brockington of WRC-TV's Channel 4 said she left the studio Saturday night after predicting an inch or less of snow for the District and two to four inches south of the city. "I woke up this morning and looked out my window and went back to bed," she groaned yesterday.

Barton Eckert, WTTG-TV's Channel 5 weekend anchorman and weather-reader, said he introduced Saturday evening's forecast with the warning, "Well, once again we're hanging by our thumbs tonight."

The station subscribes to a private forecasting firm, Accu-Weather in State College, Pa., which predicted only two to four inches of snow on the Eastern Shore and less than an inch in the District. Accu-Weather and Eckert echoed most other stations' alerts, however, that there might be more snow if the storm moved north.

"Hey, it's a risky business," said Eustis, who once was a television weatherman in Anchorage. Eustis said he regards the nation's capital as "a squirrelly place for predicting snow." The area's Middle Atlantic latitude, plus mountains to the west and the ocean's warm currents to the east can combine to trip up the professionals, in his view.

"If you don't get all the ingredients, in the right order, at the right time, you don't get the snow."

"I've been burned, or come close to being burned, before" by the area's uncooperative -- not to say unpredictable -- winter weather patterns, said Anthony. "I make no pretense of putting my hand on a crystal ball and saying they the National Weather Service, where Anthony gets his data say this but I know it's going to be that."

A subtle skill in the TV weather person's art is shading reports that affect thousands of Washington-area commuters. "If you have to sin, you sin on the more conservative side," said Anthony. "It's more grievous to say on the air there'll be seven to 12 inches of snow and then get one inch, than the other way around."