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A rainbow makes an appearance by the 118 and 210 freeway interchange in Pacoima on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer)
They were billed as the Four Storms of the Apocalypse, but the powerful downpours from the Pacific that pounded Southern California last week amounted to just a watered-down version of a thunderous winter storm system.

"The storms turned out not to be catastrophic - the hillsides didn't come down along the foothills, the communities from Seal Beach to Malibu didn't disappear into the ocean," said Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist Bill Patzert.

Rather, climatologists said the storms were not even strong enough to elevate January rain totals to anything near record levels.

"The upshot is that relative to what was advertised in the trailer for these storms, the trailer turned out to be more exciting than the movie," said Patzert.

Pedestrians cover up during a heavy rain on West 32nd Street  in Los Angeles Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010.   (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)
Pedestrians cover up during a heavy rain on West 32nd Street in Los Angeles Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)
"This has been a normal January, more or less, just a little larger than normal.

"But it wasn't even the record-breaker people talked of it being."

Last week's storms dropped a total of 4 to 8 inches of rain along the coasts and valleys, and 8 to 12 inches in the mountains.

But the total rainfall in downtown Los Angeles for this month - expected to be about 5 inches - falls far shy of the January 2008 rainfall of 7.97 inches and the January 2005 mark of 9.3 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

The series of storms were also not a drought-breaker, said experts, nor did they alleviate the outdoor water-use restrictions that Los Angeles residents have been living with since last June.

Many weary Angelenos, especially residents of hillsides denuded by recent fires, can at least find comfort in the fact that the storms weren't as bad as feared.

Mud flows washing into streets were relatively minor, and only a few houses were damaged.

"We dodged a bullet," Neal Tyler, field operations chief of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said at a Friday news conference.

Officials credited the county's vast flood-control network of sprawling basins that act as huge bathtubs to safely catch debris.

Debris flowing out of the mountains were kept from clogging storm drains or overrunning communities left beneath the 250-square-mile burn area of last summer's Station Fire, the worst wildfire in the city's history.

"The infrastructure has given 1,000 percent and done its part," said county Public Works Director Gail Farber.

On Friday, too, evacuation orders that many dreaded would be in place until Monday had been lifted, bringing a sense of relief to most residents of the Sunland-Tujunga area and foothill communities in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

While not a drought-buster, the thunderstorms did offer at least one silver lining: The rainfall replenished groundwater supplies, which furnish up to a third of the water used in Southern California and had been depleted by drought in the last three years.

Los Angeles County alone collected enough rainfall runoff to supply water to 150,000 families for a year, according to the Public Works Department.

"We still face significant water supply challenges this year," said Bob Muir, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

In fact, a congressional hearing will be held at the MWD on Monday in Los Angeles to discuss Southern California's strategies for coping with water shortages.

Experts say California needs the kind of rainfall it's gotten this month for the next two months - and then for five more winters on top of that to make a significant dent in the drought.

Clint Watson, left, helps shovel mud from the home of Allyn Constant, right, on Haskell Street in La Canada Flintridge, Monday, Jan. 18, 2010. Watson lives
Clint Watson, left, helps shovel mud from the home of Allyn Constant, right, on Haskell Street in La Canada Flintridge, Monday, Jan. 18, 2010. Watson lives one house down from Constant and was helping out. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer)

"Over the last six years, we've extracted more groundwater from California than is stored in Lake Mead," said Doug Fischer, a climatologist at California State University, Northridge, referring to the country's largest reservoir.

And the prospect for replenishing the water supply is not good.

"Right now, we're extracting water faster than it's going in," said Fischer. "It's as if you were trying to fill up the swimming pool in the backyard with a garden hose at the same time that the fire department was sucking the water out with a fire pump.

"The pool is never going to fill up."

But Michael Anderson, a climatologist with the state Department of Water Resources, is optimistic. 

Because the drought has left the state's reservoirs well below average, Anderson said, they are more likely to catch the rain runoff.

Additionally, he said, the cold storms have produced sufficient snow to get the state back to an average snowpack at the halfway point of the season.

"We need the second half of the winter to come in to have an average snowpack," Anderson said. "(But) just getting to average will probably not yield average runoff because the underlying watersheds have had three years to dry out."

Still, climatologists caution against exaggerating storms, especially in an area and a population unaccustomed to them.

"The next El Nino storm? This was definitely not," said Patzert. "This was just four storms coming out of the Gulf of Alaska on a jet stream that had speeds in excess of 200 miles an hour that was like a jet stream on steroids."