The three members of the elite radio air corps that circles over Washington at rush hour were flabbergasted yesterday morning.

Bob Marbourg of WTOP, Walter Starling of WASH-FM and "Captain Dan" Rosenson of WMAL have been following the travails of commuters in and around the capital for as long as 20 years. The views of White House aides are not solicited half as avidly as theirs, broadcast from three Cessna airplanes 1,200 feet up.

All three agreed that yesterday's snafu in the snow outdid the epic tie-ups of recent Washington history.

It topped, they said, the snarl after the Bicentennial Fourth of July celebration in 1976. It surpassed the harvest of roadside woe sowed four years ago by the protesting farmers' tractorcade. Verily, it eclipsed even the Storm of '79 when the snow was deeper and the plows did not have three days to clear the roads.

Marbourg called yesterday's jam unprecedented. Starling said he measured a 16- to 18-mile backup on Georgia Avenue from Walter Reed Hospital to Olney. And, after two decades of watching hordes of commuters descend on Washington, Captain Dan was nearly at a loss for words:

"How many other words can you say for traffic jam?" he mused. "The major arterial approaches to Washington from Montgomery, Prince George's and Northern Virginia looked like parking lots. It was a horror story--the worst rush hour I have ever seen."

The roads that convey 300,000 cars into Washington conveyed mostly frustration yesterday. Incomplete snow-plowing left major routes at a fraction of their normal width. The city's arterial system was severely afflicted by a case of arteriosclerosis that prolonged 45-minute rides into two hour crawls.

"It really started to get disastrous around 8:30," said Starling, who drew double his normal allotment of fuel yesterday for his morning rounds. "The arteries, which are the lifelines of the city, stopped functioning. We haven't had any snow since Friday night and we still can't get emergency vehicles through the streets."

The rush hour did not ease until 11. The birds-eye vantage showed dozens of horrific backups, including a six-mile nightmare on Rte. 1 from the Penn Daw area of Fairfax County to Alexandria and Rockville Pike packed from Montgomery Village to the Beltway.

From the suburbs, the usually simple task of attaining the Beltway was a feat. "It was as if everything inside the Beltway was a plateau," said Marbourg. "Everything outside the Beltway was an icy rock face that people were trying to climb up with their fingernails."