Accumulations are expected to range from about an inch in Farmington to a foot or more in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.
The storm should move in quickly Friday, peaking by midday before leaving the area Saturday. Snow levels could drop to 4,000 feet and colder temperatures are forecast.
Tim Shy, senior forecaster for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said it will be a "dump and leave" storm.
"Once it gets down to southern California, it will move very rapidly eastward across Arizona and start knocking on the door of western New Mexico," he said.
The storm's arrival would provide relief from a remarkably dry late fall in the Four Corners. Most of San Juan County is in severe drought, with a small area near the Arizona border in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
"Moisture is very welcome, and that's the hidden prize that comes with all this," Shy said.
Regional supervisors at the New Mexico Department of Transportation met Thursday to plan their response to the storm. Snow plows were readied with salt to melt snow and cinders to help with traction.
"We're feeling very prepared for this event," said Patricia Wolff, public information officer for District 5, which includes northwest New Mexico.
Snow-plow drivers will place a high priority on U.S. Highway 550, U.S. Highway 64, U.S. Highway 491 and New Mexico Highway 516.
"If there's a huge storm, we do have to prioritize what we cover and we do get those main thoroughfares open first," Wolff said.
Drivers are urged to stay back from snowplows and to pass carefully.
At Ace Hardware of Farmington, some customers were beginning to come in for snow shovels and sleds.
"You've always got to be prepared for that type of weather," store manager Rick Lopez said.
Ski areas are hoping for snow after many of them had delayed or partial openings. Durango Mountain Resort is expecting around 18 inches, spokeswoman Kim Oyler said.
"Durango Mountain Resort is just as excited as everyone else to get some help from Mother Nature," she said. "Our mountain operations crew is working to open up as much terrain as they can."
Durango Mountain Resort is open Friday through Sunday, with 9 percent of terrain open to skiing. More terrain is expected to open as the storm arrives.
The "six-pack" chairlift will be operating, with top-to-bottom skiing serving the front side of the mountain, Oyler said.
The resort will offer $40 adult lift tickets Sunday to benefit the La Plata County Mounted Patrol, a volunteer group. A coupon is necessary for the deal. It can be printed off from the website www.lpcmp.org/fundraiser.html.
At Wolf Creek Ski Area, lift tickets are a discounted $35 for adults. The ski area east of Pagosa Springs, Colo. is 40 percent open.