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Southern California hit with intense series of storms

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.

CBS Los Angeles

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.

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

"We had large rocks and debris in the lane," California Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Koehler told CBS Los Angeles.

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.

Clouds dumped more than a half-inch on downtown Los Angeles and nearly an inch at Los Angeles International Airport and in Beverly Hills.

Health officials warned beachgoers to stay out of the Pacific Ocean for at least a few days because bacteria, debris, trash and other public health hazards were polluting the water, CBS Los Angeles reported.

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 inches 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 Tuesday, downtown Los Angeles had collected 4.32 inches, more than 1.3 inches more than normal to date. A year earlier, it had collected just 0.86 of an inch to date. Downtown San Francisco had tallied 13.37 inches, or more than 6½ inches above normal to date.