ST. LOUIS — Midwesterners accustomed to dealing with snow, sleet and ice readied themselves for a monster winter storm that could be the biggest many cities have seen in years.
Despite dire warnings of a potentially deadly storm predicted to affect a third of the country, some people seemed even a little excited Monday at the prospect of dealing with the kind of weather that has pounded the Northeast in one of that region's most brutal winters. Others headed to stores to pick up everything from snow shovels and backup generators to bottled water and bread as the first flakes and freezing rain began to fall on parts of the region.
"I'm looking forward to it. I'm a school teacher, and we'll probably get a snow day — and it'll be the first time in a couple of years," said Katy Berman, 58, of the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines, Ill. "It doesn't faze me as long as I'm home."
As the storm began its trek across the Midwest, it brought a bit of everything: ice, sleet and snow — even tornadoes were possible. School districts, universities and legislatures closed; airlines canceled thousands of flights; and residents rushed to gather supplies, anticipating they might have to dig out or hunker down.
"I've never seen a prediction of what have you — rain, snow, ice, whatever — where people reacted so quickly to it," Jack Runyon, co-owner of Runyon Equipment Rental in Carmel, Ind., where customers snapped up all of the store's small emergency generators.
Cities including St. Louis, Kansas City and Milwaukee could be hardest hit, with expected midweek snowfalls of up to 2 feet and drifts piled 5 to 10 feet. Even hardy Chicago could be in for its third-worst blizzard since record-keeping began, with forecasts calling for up to 20 inches of snow in the city and waves whipping off Lake Michigan.
At Edele and Mertz Hardware just a few blocks from the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis, customers lined up by 7 a.m. Monday waiting for the store to open. Snow shovels, ice melt and salt were all big sellers.
"'Freaking out' is a great way of putting it," employee Steve Edele said. "The icing — that's what scares people."
In St. Louis and much of Missouri, residents braced for a particularly hazardous mix: up to an inch of ice, followed by 3 to 4 inches of sleet, then perhaps a half-foot of snow or more. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated 600 members of the National Guard.
Drivers were already sliding off slick roads even before the worst of the storm had arrived, with deadly accidents reported in Minnesota and Kansas.
With the storm expected to affect a huge swath of the country, the National Weather Service suggested any Green Bay Packers fans planning to drive from Wisconsin to Dallas for the Super Bowl avoid leaving before Wednesday afternoon, when authorities hope to have cleaned up the worst of the mess along the route.
"As long as I have 18 hours, I'm going to get there," said 68-year-old Don Zuidmulder, who planned to fly out on Thursday. "I'll crawl if I have to."
In Arkansas, communities anticipated lesser snow totals, but the weather service warned severe thunderstorms could generate freezing rain, hail and isolated tornadoes.
If the forecasts for Chicago hold true, it would be the city's third-biggest snowstorm, overshadowed only by the 21.6 inches in 1999 and the mother of all Chicago snowstorms, the 23 inches of snow that fell in 1967.
Paula Lawson, a 59-year-old community organizer from suburban Glencoe, said she remembered the big storm in 1967, which "really did stop the world for days."
Will the latest storm do the same?
"If we get 20 inches, maybe," Lawson said at a downtown rail station. "But around here, 12 inches, it doesn't stop us."
Sue Carroll, a retired mail carrier from northern Illinois, was looking forward to a big snowfall and said she planned to stay indoors by the fireplace.
"I'm retired. I used to work outside. I'm all for it," the 56-year-old from Polo, Ill., said. "Winter used to mean something different. Now I smile when it's white outside."
But in South Bend, Ind., where nearly 75 inches of snow already has fallen this winter, the prospect of a huge storm left people more resigned than pleased.
"My back is still recovering from shoveling out from the last one," said retiree Mel Goralski.
After burying the Midwest, the storm was expected to sweep into the Northeast, parts of which already are on track for record snowfall this winter.
Associated Press writers Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo.; Rick Callahan in Indianapolis; Murray Evans in Oklahoma City; Dinesh Ramde in Green Bay, Wis.; Corey Williams in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; and Barbara Rodriguez in Chicago contributed to this report.