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CHICAGO (Reuters) - The first major winter storm of the year took aim at the U.S. Midwest on Thursday, triggering high wind and blizzard warnings across a widespread area, and a threat of tornadoes in Gulf Coast states to the south.

"There are blizzard warnings in effect from southeastern Nebraska through much of Iowa into Wisconsin," said Bruce Terry, a senior National Weather Service forecaster at the HydroMeteorological Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

"It's going to be very windy with considerable blowing and drifting of snow," he said, calling the pre-Christmas cyclone "a major winter snow storm event for the Midwest and western Great Lakes."

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