It's beginning to look a lot like Easter, everywhere you go.

Witness the man walking by the cherry trees on the Capitol grounds yesterday. His pace slackens, his jaw drops and his briefcase sags. He blinks and looks closer. Could it be?

"I can't believe it," said Smithsonian editor David Maxfield as he stared at five cherry trees, each one blushing with hundreds of pale pink blossoms. "I thought they must be Christmas decorations."

In its 10th day of above-normal temperature, the Washington area was looking less like Christmas and more like stolen spring. Balmy breezes tugged at neckties, and lethargic honeybees labored over unexpected bounty.

At the Capitol, there were green shoots protruding from the velvety tips of the star magnolias, and suburbanites reported intemperate behavior from confused forsythias. Commuters in shirt sleeves relaxed under Yule bowers at the District Building, looking like movie extras who'd wandered onto the wrong set.

From Dulles International Airport to Baltimore, Georgia to New Jersey, temperatures rose and records fell to the conquering Gulf Stream air. Washington recorded a high of 72 degrees, tying a record set in 1937. At Dulles, 69 degrees beat a record set in 1966.

Norfolk, Richmond and Roanoke also reported record-breaking temperatures, Norfolk's 75 degrees breaking the record set back in 1908, according to the National Weather Service. Atlantic City's 72 degrees melted a previous record of 68 degrees set in 1889.

More than 45 locations from Houston to Portland, Maine, have reported record-breaking high temperatures since Monday.

To hear the National Weather Service tell it, St. Nick may well be shinnying down Washington chimneys in a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses this year. Meteorologist Jeff Bowman said yesterday that the warm weather is expected to continue for at least 10 days, and predicted temperatures as high as the 50s on Christmas Day.

Not all of the country was as lucky. A mass of cool, dry air from the west had begun to cool off the Ohio Valley and New England yesterday, according to Weather Service reports, and the Dakotas and northern Minnesota reported below-zero temperatures. Snow fell from the Pacific Northwest to the northern Rockies with Mullan, Idaho, reporting 19 inches of snow. Thunderstorms and heavy rains submerged Texas highways; in Hunt County residents were rescued from cars and trees after floodwaters rose to 10 feet.

In the Washington area today, those warm Gulf Stream breezes should give way to slightly cooler air from the Tennessee Valley. That is no reason for anyone here to break out the snow shovels.

"There's nothing in the forseeable future that's going to put us in normal or below-normal temperatures," Bowman said. "We'll stay above normal for the next 10 days."

The temperatures did help push the Washington area's air pollution index into the moderate to unhealthy range yesterday, unusual for December.

None of which seemed to worry the man and woman in the street.

"Last year Christmas was one of the coldest days in memory," said cabdriver Bernard Sweetney. "I'm not complaining."

Sweetney's cab windows were open, and as he steered down Pennsylvania Avenue, past holly bunting and tinsel trees, the damp, sweet air ruffled the papers in the back seat.

"I don't care," Sweetney said with a languid shrug left over from August. "Just as long as it don't snow."