updated 12/18/2007 9:06:27 PM ET 2007-12-19T02:06:27

The first of a series of storms forecast for the state brought much-needed rain to depleted reservoirs this week but raised fears of mudslides in wildfire-scarred Southern California.

The downpour is part of a wave of storms expected to bring rain and snow to California into the new year. The first has dropped about an inch of rain across northern California so far this week.

"We're always happy to see rain here," state hydrologist Maury Roos said. "(The storm) doesn't get us up to normal for this time of year, but a couple more of these will help."

Since July 1, California has received 61 percent of its normal precipitation, a worrisome sign for state water managers after the state had its lowest snow pack in 19 years last winter.

Reservoirs were at 83 percent of average for Dec. 1, compared with 121 percent at the same time last year.

State water officials have worried that a second winter of below-average precipitation would further strain the state's water-delivery system and force rationing.

Fears of mudslides
While rainfall was welcome in northern and central California, it raised concerns of mudslides and flash floods in Southern California, where wildfires this fall denuded hillsides. No evacuations were ordered.

Several feet of snow is expected at higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada the next few days, with a foot or more at Lake Tahoe, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm complicated efforts to find a Northern California family that disappeared Sunday about 100 miles north of Sacramento after setting out to cut a Christmas tree. The family was found alive on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, President Bush issued a major disaster declaration Tuesday for seven Oklahoma counties that suffered serious ice storm damage.

Statewide, about 76,000 homes and businesses remained without power Tuesday afternoon, down from a high of more than 600,000 homes and businesses that did not have electricity.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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