- Associated Press - Monday, January 31, 2011

COLUMBIA, Mo. — 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 that could affect a third of the nation.

While record snowfalls have pounded the Northeast in what’s shaping up to be one of that region’s most brutal winters, the Midwest has been comparatively unscathed. Not this time: Up to 2 feet of snow was forecast for some cities, and the storm was expected to carve a frigid path from Colorado to New England by week’s end. Thunderstorms and tornadoes were possible further south.

Patrons were lined up by 7 a.m. Monday 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,” Mr. Edele said. “The icing — that’s what scares people.”

As the first flakes fell, 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.

This NOAA satellite image taken on Monday, Jan. 31, 2011, at 12:45 a.m. EST shows cloud cover and precipitation developing in the Northern Plains, ahead of disturbances in the West. (AP Photo/Weather Underground)
This NOAA satellite image taken on Monday, Jan. 31, 2011, at 12:45 ... more >

The National Weather Service, meanwhile, suggested any Green Bay Packers fans planning to drive from Wisconsin to Dallas for the Super Bowl not leave before Wednesday afternoon, by which time authorities hope to have responded to the worst of the weather along the route.

For now, officials are urging residents in the storm’s path to stay put.

“We don’t like to stop for anything, weather or otherwise,” said weather service meteorologist Edward Fenelon in Chicago. “But this may be one of those storms best handled from the comfort of the great indoors.”

The 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 weather service said Tuesday that 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 areas.

Dozens of day-care centers, community organizations, universities and school districts in Kansas and Missouri closed Monday. Illinois lawmakers postponed a planned legislative session until next week, and the 2011 Pork Expo in Peoria, Ill., was rescheduled for the middle of February.

The Oklahoma Blood Institute sought immediate blood donations, saying that while its current supply is adequate, it could run low if the storm results in a significant slowdown in donations for a couple days.

Freezing drizzle coated roadways across the Plains. A school bus slid off the road in a south Kansas City, Mo., school district, slightly injuring two students. A Wisconsin state trooper was struck and seriously injured while directing traffic around another accident, while the Minnesota State Patrol reported more than 200 crashes statewide, including that one authorities said was fatal.

Residents braced for the worse in St. Louis and throughout Missouri, with forecasters calling for a particularly hazardous and potentially deadly mix: up to an inch of ice, followed by 3 to 4 inches of sleet, then perhaps a half-foot or more of snow.

Forecasters predicted between 12 inches and 16 inches of snowfall in Columbia, where the University of Missouri men’s basketball team prepared to leave a day early for a road game at Oklahoma State University scheduled for Wednesday night in Stillwater.

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