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The temperature puckered up to 82 degrees in downtown Baltimore yesterday, sort of a warm goodbye kiss from a mercifully gentle winter that departs officially at 9:14 p.m. Monday.

"We earned it. Last winter was pretty rotten," said Jose Marrero, a National Weather Service forecaster at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Marylanders celebrated by baring their shirtsleeves and opening their windows to the breezes and bird-song.

The latest mild spell, in a winter punctuated by them, began Saturday with a high of 60 degrees at BWI -- 7 degrees above normal. Highs reached 65 on Sunday, 72 Monday and 76 yesterday.

It was colder near the water, which is still frigid. At 1 p.m. yesterday, while it was 73 degrees at BWI, the thermometer at Martin State Airport on the Middle River read 51.

But beware the Ides of March. Forecasters say a "back-door cold front" from the Atlantic is expected to drift westward across the region by today.

"If this front comes in, it will ruin the perfectly nice spell we've had," Mr. Marrero said. "We'll see patchy fog, drizzle and a little cooler temperatures."

Boston shivered in it yesterday, with fog, drizzle and afternoon temperatures in the upper 30s. It was 46 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and fog rolled in there.

The Baltimore-area forecast called for morning fog and drizzle today, with highs still mild but cooler, in the low 60s. They'll slip back to the more seasonal mid-50s to low 60s Thursday and Friday.

Mild-to-seasonal pretty much describes the whole winter. At Washington's National Airport, every month this winter except February has had 70-degree days. BWI was cooler, but not by much:

* The December high at BWI was 68 degrees on the 5th, and the month saw no snow at all. Temperatures averaged 5.9 degrees above normal.

* In January, the airport high reached 71 degrees on the 13th. Snow came to a paltry 0.3 inches, which fell on the 28th. Temperatures averaged 7.2 inches above normal.

* February was cooler. The airport saw a high of 59 degrees and a low of 5 degrees. A 7.2-inch snowfall on the 4th accounted for nearly all of the season's total of 8.2 inches. The average is 22 inches. February was the only month that averaged cooler than normal, by less than 2 degrees.

* The only other snow all season was a 0.2-inch dusting early on Thanksgiving, another 0.3 inches Feb. 15 and 0.2 inches March 8.

This week's warm, dry weather was delivered by a stagnant high-pressure system centered over the central Appalachians, hemmed in by an ocean storm off Newfoundland and more storms in the southern Plains.

"We happen to be stuck in the good weather," said Pennsylvania State University meteorologist Fred Gadomski. Clear skies stretched from upstate New York to the Carolinas, and as far west as St. Louis.

The system has produced few record highs. A "spectacular" March 1990 heat wave averaged 10 degrees warmer than this one, Mr. Gadomski said, "so we're running up against some tough records this time of year in many Eastern locations."

Winter can still make itself felt this time of year, however. On March 13, the "Blizzard of 1993" paralyzed many areas along the East Coast and left nearly 12 inches of snow at BWI.

"The clock is ticking, but there are still another three weeks or so where it is possible to sneak in a snowstorm," Mr. Gadomski said.

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