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California storms unleash freeway mudslide, boost rain, snowfall amid drought

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LOS ANGELES — The latest in a string of storms noisily marched across Southern California on Wednesday, hurling lightning bolts, coating mountains with snow and unleashing downpours that triggered a freeway-blocking mudslide before mostly moving on.

"It was rather rare to see lightning all night long as this storm system moved across the region," the National Weather Service said, noting that the tempest's instability was similar to a heavy rain event last week that produced no lightning at all.

Intense rains brought on by stronger thunderstorms didn't hit any of the most vulnerable burn areas or other susceptible problem spots, the NWS said.

Another weaker storm entered the northern end of the state late Wednesday, but rainfall was expected to remain light and the system wasn't expected to spread farther south than central coast counties.

California has been hit hard by rain and snow over the past week, but experts say it will take many storms to end a three-year drought.

PHOTO: Heavy rain caused roadways to flood Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, in Monterey, Calif. A new storm dumped more rain on already waterlogged parts of Northern California, causing minor road flooding, scattered power outages and airport delays. The rain was coming down hard in the San Francisco Bay Area, making for a treacherous commute. A landslide closed both directions of a highway in Fremont. (AP Photo/Monterey Herald, Vern Fisher)
Heavy rain caused roadways to flood Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, in Monterey, Calif. A new storm dumped more rain on already waterlogged parts of Northern California, causing minor road flooding, scattered power outages and airport delays. The rain was coming down hard in the San Francisco Bay Area, making for a treacherous commute. A landslide closed both directions of a highway in Fremont. (AP Photo/Monterey Herald, Vern Fisher)

A torrent of mud and rocks from a recently burned hillside covered part of state Route 91 in Orange County before dawn. Cars and trucks were stuck for about 90 minutes, and the eastbound lanes were shut for several hours. No injuries were reported.

"It's pretty bad. It's about 2 feet deep," Jeff Dean, a motorcyclist who was stranded, told KABC-TV.

After moving down the coast from Northern California, the second of back-to-back storms prompted temporary evacuations Tuesday night in Camarillo Springs, which was hit by mudslides last week. This time, the wildfire-scarred hillsides held above the community about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

For Tuesday through Wednesday, clouds dumped more than half an inch of rain on downtown Los Angeles, and nearly an inch at Los Angeles International Airport and in Beverly Hills.

Eight to 10 inches of snow accumulated at ski resorts at Mountain High and on Mount Baldy in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles, and 5 to 7 inches fell at resorts at Big Bear farther east in the San Bernardino Mountains, the weather service said.

A study of satellite data released by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory found that at the peak of the drought earlier this year, water storage in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins was 11 trillion gallons below normal seasonal levels.

Still, rainfall has been trending above normal in many places so far during the 2014-2015 rain season that began July 1. As of Wednesday, downtown Los Angeles had collected 4.47 inches, more than 1.4 inches more than normal to date. A year earlier, it had collected just 0.86 inch to date. Downtown San Francisco had tallied 13.40 inches, or nearly 6.5 inches more than normal to date.

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PHOTO: Caltrans crews work to clean up a torrent of mud and rocks covering part of State Route 91 in Orange County early Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in Yorba Linda, Calif. Cars and trucks were stuck for several hours, but no injuries were reported. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
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