COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- A monster winter storm bigger than some Midwest cities have seen in years slogged toward the nation's midsection Monday as the region geared up its defenses against a potentially deadly mix of sleet, snow and ice.
While record snowfalls have pounded the Northeast in what's shaping up to be one of that regions most brutal winters, the Midwest has been comparatively unscathed. Not this time: Up to two feet of snow was forecast for some cities, and the storm was expected to carve a frigid path from Denver to New England by week's end. Thunderstorms and tornadoes were possible further south.
As the first flakes fell Monday, transportation officials from Kansas City to Detroit readied storm-fighting equipment and some airlines encouraged travelers to rebook flights leaving from Chicago's major airports.
Patrons lined up by 7 a.m. outside Edele and Mertz Hardware just a few blocks from the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis, waiting for the store to open. Snow shovels were big sellers, but worker Steve Edele said ice melt and salt were flying out the door.
"`Freaking out' is a great way of putting it," Edele said. "The icing - that's what scares people."
The National Weather Service said the storm could drop up to an inch of freezing rain and issued a blizzard watch for Tuesday and Wednesday for southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois and northwest Indiana. Snow drifts of 5 feet to 10 feet were possible and the service said Tuesday winds could reach up to 60 mph in open areas and near Lake Michigan.
Bitterly cold temperatures were forecast in the wake of the storm, with wind chills as cold as 40 degrees below zero possible for parts of North Dakota, South Dakota and other parts of the Midwest.
Freezing drizzle made roads slick in northwest Missouri early Monday, causing cars to slide off highways in Buchanan County and prompting authorities to cancel classes at public and private schools in the area. Freezing rain and fog led to some flight delays Sunday at the airport in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Residents braced for the worse in St. Louis and throughout Missouri, with forecasters calling for a particularly hazardous and potentially deadly mix Tuesday: Up to an inch of ice, followed by 3-4 inches of sleet, then perhaps a half-foot of snow or more.
St. Louis-based utility company Ameren opened its emergency operations center amid worries that the weight of the ice and snow could duplicate a severe crisis in 2006, when an ice storm downed thousands of trees and power lines. Parts of southeast Missouri were left without electricity for more than a week.
The utility has six 53-foot "Storm Trailers" that can be dispatched to trouble spots. The 53-foot trailers are stocked with wire, poles, and hardware to repair damaged lines and facilities. Meanwhile, the Missouri Department of Transportation had 400 workers and 200 vehicles at the ready in the St. Louis area, with plans to get the interstates and major thoroughfares cleared first.
After burying the Midwest, the storm was expected to sweep into the Northeast, parts of which are already on track for record snowfall this winter. In New Hampshire, where pedestrians have been forced to walk in the street in some places because of piled-up snow, crews rushed to remove it before a new foot or so fell on the state.
Associated Press writer Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed to this report.