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Storm dumps heavy rain, snow in parts of West

BELLEMONT, Ariz. - A winter storm pummeled the western U.S. Thursday with fierce wind gusts, heavy rain and more than 2 feet of snow, closing hundreds of miles of roads and dumping a snowy mix of precipitation on the edges of Phoenix.

Officials closed a road into Yosemite National Park in California after a rock the size of a dump truck tumbled onto the road, and strong winds created snow dunes on rooftops, front yards and streets across mountainous areas of Arizona.

Snow and ice forced an hours-long closure of the two major thoroughfares in Northern Arizona, stranding motorists south of Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. People in Phoenix were stunned at the sight of snow-type flurries that the National Weather Service said were a combination of hail and snow that melts before it hits the ground.

The Silverton Mountain resort in Colorado reported 22 inches of snow, but only about 120 people were on the mountain because officials closed highways leading to the ski area for avalanche control and because of adverse conditions, resort co-founder Jen Brill said.

The weather service said snow could fall at a rate close to an inch an hour starting Thursday evening in the Denver area, which usually has around 25 inches of snow by this time of the season but had just 1.5 inches so far.

United Airlines, the dominant carrier at Denver International Airport, canceled 32 United and United Express flights from Denver on Thursday, spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said.

Major highways were also shut down in parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Nevada.

Forecasters said strong winds in California were expected to die down by early Friday, allowing a cold air mass to create frost and freeze problems in the region.

Phoenix braced for freezing overnight temperatures as well, a rarity in the desert city. Inmates housed at the city's Tent City jail facility were being issued extra blankets and pink thermal underwear - part of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's odd method for punishing prisoners.

Southwestern New Mexico was being hit with blizzard conditions that were forecast to continue through midnight Thursday.

The California Highway Patrol reported downed trees on various Los Angeles-area freeways and streets. One gust north of Los Angeles was clocked at 94 mph.

In the snow-laden Sierra Nevada, search teams found the body of a woman who disappeared while snowboarding at a Lake Tahoe-area resort, sheriff's Capt. Jeff Ausnow said. Shawnte Marie Willis, 25, became separated from friends Tuesday at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, and bad weather had hindered the search.

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