KANSAS, MISSOURI (From CBS News) -- A monster storm was bearing down on the middle of the United States on Tuesday, with freezing rain and sleet pelting several states from Texas through Ohio.
Snow fell from Missouri to Wisconsin, and ice downed power lines in Ohio, leaving 14,000 without electricity.
Forecasters predicted a hodge-podge of brutal winter weather over a third of the country - 24 inches of snow in some places, up to an inch of ice plus snow in others. Making matters far worse was the expectation of brutal cold and winds gusting to near 60 mph.
"What really gives us nightmares is the prospect of widespread power outages," said Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. "It's cross-our-fingers time."
Flight-tracking service FlightAware.com said airline cancellations had already topped 7,700 through Wednesday.
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport closed for a short Tuesday morning due to an ice storm, then reopened when runways were cleared. But American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith said the airline is hardly operating at Dallas because high winds make it unsafe for de-icing employees to work in bucket trucks.
Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines Inc. said it canceled more than 625 flights for Tuesday. Widespread cancelations are expected from other airlines as well. Chicago airports reported 650 cancelations. A United Airlines spokeswoman said about 300 departures would be canceled in Chicago starting in the afternoon, when the snow was expected to pick up.
Storm predictions were so dire that public officials, street crews and utility workers have been in place since Monday in anticipation of the worst. The St. Louis-based utility company AmerenUE had nearly 500 of its own linemen ready to go and was bringing in another 800 from as far away as Michigan.
Massive amounts of ice predicted south of St. Louis, followed by strong winds, could cause a repeat of 2006, when the ice knocked out power in parts of Missouri for weeks.
White-outs paralyzed Oklahoma City and the Tulsa area, where snowpack caused the partial collapse of a roof at the Hard Rock Casino. Blowing snow created drifts up to 4 feet high and trucks, city buses, snowplows and at least one ambulance had trouble navigating the treacherous roadways.
Hardware stores were selling out of snow shovels, backup generators and ice-melting salt. Grocery stores doing all they could to keep supplied with the staples.
"Milk, bread, toilet paper, beer," said Todd Vasel of the St. Louis-based grocery chain Dierbergs, who said pre-storm crowds were more than double the norm. "It's been the equivalent of Christmas Eve, which is normally one of our biggest days of the year."
Forecasters said some regions could get up to 2 inches of snow per hour through parts of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
Blizzard warnings were in effect in much of the Midwest. Kansas City, St. Louis and Milwaukee are all in line for 12 inches a foot of snow or more. Even Chicago, where snow is common, could be in for its third-worst blizzard since record-keeping began, with up to 20 inches forecast.
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.
Farther east, the Iowa Department of Transportation said most roadways in the state were partially or completely covered with a combination of ice and snow. Deadly wrecks were reported in Minnesota and Kansas.
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. A winter storm warning was in effect for New York City, with forecasters predicting a mix of snow, sleet and ice. Federal workers in Washington were given the option of working from home because roads on Tuesday were already slippery.
Governor Sam Brownback joined the governors of Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois in declaring emergencies, even as the storm was just arriving. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon even activated 600 members of their National Guard.