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Storm bringing snow to Rocky Mountains has moved into Denver area, slowing flights, commute

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This NOAA satellite image taken Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 02:00 PM EST shows a few clouds in the Rockies where low pressure continues to develop. This low will intensify through the week, eventually bringing a strong winter storm to the Northeast. (AP Photo/Weather Underground)The Associated Press

A storm that has dumped more than a foot of snow on the Rocky Mountains moved into the Denver area Wednesday, slowing down the morning commute and delaying flights as it provided much-needed moisture.

The snow arrived before dawn, a few hours behind schedule. It's expected to continue moving east across the plains of Colorado, where wind gusts of up to 40 mph will blow the snow around, creating zero visibility at times.

"Travel is going to be difficult," National Weather Service forecaster Kyle Fredin said.

Flights delays at Denver International Airport, on the plains east of the city, were averaging 30 minutes.

The storm also could cause travel delays on major highways such as Interstate 40 in Arizona, Interstate 15 in Utah, Interstate 70 in Utah and Colorado, and Interstate 25 in Colorado.

Up to 6 inches of snow are expected along the Front Range region, which is home to 4.1 million of Colorado's 5 million residents. Some parts of the mountains could get as much as 2 feet.

The snow is a gift for ski resorts in Colorado, Utah and Arizona right before the busy holiday week. The moisture is also a relief after an extended wildfire season in Colorado.

Utah ski areas have received 12-20 inches of snow in the past 48 hours and should get 4-8 inches more, said Jeff Zimmerman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

The Utah Avalanche Center has issued a warning for dangerous backcountry snowslides in northern Utah's mountains.

The snow expected in northern Arizona is adding to an already thick snowpack.

By Thursday, the snow should subside in Utah, Arizona and Colorado. By then, storms will begin in the Pacific Northwest, where snow and rain is expected, Zimmerman said.

Two recent storms had combined to blanket the mountains north of Flagstaff with 2 feet of snow, about 20 inches in Flagstaff and along the Mogollon Rim, and about 6 inches in Prescott. The snowfall put Flagstaff above its nearly 17-inch normal for December with the snowiest month yet to come in January.

The fast-moving storm hit Arizona from west to east and was to leave the state Wednesday with temperatures that will be 10-15 degrees below normal, the National Weather Service said.

For those traveling over the weekend for the holidays, the weather won't be as bitter. Warmer temperatures return Thursday and will back to near-normal on Friday and through the weekend, said Robert Rickey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.

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McCombs reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca contributed from Flagstaff, Ariz.