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Winter storm to blanket Plains, Midwest

As the storm moves in, snow covers the ground Wednesday night at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
As the storm moves in, snow covers the ground Wednesday night at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
  • NEW: Tornado rips through Longview, Texas, downing power lines
  • CNN's Chad Myers says parts of Minneapolis could see "an almost record-breaking snow event"
  • Heavy snow, "gusty northwest winds" to hit parts of South Dakota
  • Chicago, Illinois, and Denver, Colorado, also scramble because of weather threat

(CNN) -- A major winter storm bore down on the Great Plains on Wednesday night with the Minneapolis, Minnesota, area "right in the teeth" of it, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

"There's potential for the northwest part of the city to see an almost record-breaking snow event," Myers said. The rest of the city could see about a foot of snow, he said. Winds could gusts 40 to 50 miles per hour, creating blizzard-like conditions for hours, he said.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for central and southern Minnesota and portions of west-central Wisconsin starting Wednesday night through Christmas.

"Strong north winds will develop, causing widespread blowing and heavy drifting snow," the Weather Service said. Visibility will be near zero at times.

The inclement weather is the second major storm system to hit the United States in a week. Last week, a nor'easter blanketed a swath of the East Coast in snow, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights over the weekend.

The Weather Service said Wednesday heavy snow will hit central South Dakota. "Gusty northwest winds" are expected with and "frigid wind chill readings" across the plains of western South Dakota.

Video: Tornado slams into town

In Chicago, Illinois, a mix of rain, ice and snow caused Southwest Airlines to cancel departures for much of Wednesday afternoon before resuming take-offs, according to CNN affiliate WLS-TV in Chicago.

"Well, I'm disappointed," stranded traveler Araceli Martinez told WLS. "Pretty sad we're going to have to sleep here." The airline stopped its planes from flying from 1 to 4 p.m. before getting back on schedule, according to WLS.

Holiday travelers in the Denver, Colorado, area, left earlier than they planned because of the threat of inclement weather, according to CNN affiliate 7NEWS in Denver.

"We thought maybe we would go tomorrow, but we decided tonight was probably going to be better weather than tomorrow or tomorrow night," Scott Aldridge, who was traveling from Greeley to Meeker on Tuesday night to spend Christmas with relatives, told 7NEWS.

In Texas, a tornado watch was in effect for all of East Texas late Wednesday, according to CNN affiliate KLTV in Tyler, Texas.

Kevin Brownlee, public information officer for the Longview, Texas Police Department, said a tornado touched down south of Highway 80.

"We've got several businesses there that have sustained major building damage," he said, including FedEx and Maid-Rite. Although no injuries were reported, Brownlee said, the tornado caused "high wind damage, some water damage."

The weather caused several road closures because debris and downed power lines, Brownlee said.

In addition to isolated tornadoes, scattered thunderstorms were expected to continue throughout the evening with the possibility of large hail stones and wind gusts, KLTV said.