This week is Severe Weather Awareness Week

Melting snow and warmer days means it’s time to start thinking about severe weather.
Gov. Rick Snyder has declared this week Severe Weather Awareness Week.
It’s a time devoted to learning about and preparing for severe weather, said Jim Keysor, the warning cordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Gaylord.
“We really hit hard upon the concept that people need to have a plan in place well in advance,” said Keysonr. “They need to know where they’re going to go, where the safest location to go is.”
According to Keysor, having a plan in place is especially important in northern Michigan, where shelters can be few and far between.
“This is particularly true, for example, for somebody that was living in a mobile home or was in an RV or something where they didn’t feel maybe as safe,” he said. “They need to have a plan of what they’re going to do if severe weather striles.”
Events this week include a statewide tornado drill scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. 
Check back to for more on that tomorrow.
On the Web
Severe Weather Awareness Week information:

MLCC approves reformulated malt beverages without stimulants

The Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) has approved the sale of certain reformulated alcoholic beverages.  The drinks used to be alcoholic energy drinks, but were banned late last year because of their combination of alcohol and stimulants, like caffeine.  Some called the original beverages “blackout in a can.”

MLCC spokesperson Andrea Miller says companies reintroduced the products this month.

“They removed all the stimulants, such as the caffeine, the taurine, the guarana, but they still have similar labels and similar price-points.  So that’s the concern right now — that they still look the same, and people are calling and saying, ‘These items are still on the shelf,’ when really, they’ve been reformulated and approved.”

State officials are still concerned about the drinks, even without the stimulants, says Andrea Miller

“The concern is that the cans are typically 23.5 oz in size, with the alcohol volume as high as 12%.  And as such, one beverage is equivalent to approximately two to three beers, with a price point of $2-$3 per can.”

She says labels on the reformulated beverages are so similar to the original, that people don’t realize they’re different drinks.

“The commission has been receiving calls — more or less anonymous tips — saying that the store is still selling these products, when in truth they have been approved as of March 1 to be put back on, because the stimulants were taken out.”

The MLCC banned the original alcoholic energy drinks last December.

Dow Corning to support vision-correction initiative

Dow Corning and the UK-based Centre for Vision in the Developing World (CVDW) say they plan to combat a shortage of eye-care professionals in developing countries.  The partners plan to improve children’s vision using innovative, cost-efficient eyeglasses.

The adjustable eyeglasses let users fine-tune the amount of silicone fluid inside the lenses, to tweak the glasses’ strength.

Officials from the partner organizations say the glasses can improve children’s vision.  Lindsay Kuhnle, Global Marketing Communications Leader for Dow Corning Healthcare, says the initiative has implications beyond simply improving vision.

“The aim is to increase the effectiveness overall of classroom-based education by improving the child’s ability to see the blackboard.  Can you imagine being in a classroom, and not having the appropriate or any vision correction, and the challenges you would have with being able to see the blackboard?  So what we’re ultimately hoping to do is by improving and increasing vision correction for these children, that ultimately we’ll be impacting their education.”

Kuhnle says the adult glasses are relatively inexpensive.

“The glasses that are out there cost about $20, but in order to make this mass production and to get this to more children, we know that we’ll need to bring the cost of the overall glasses down.  So the overall goal is to significantly decrease that $20 cost of the current pair, and make them much more cost-effective to hopefully increase distribution of the child-specific glasses.”

Kuhnle says the CVDW has already distributed adjustable glasses to 40,000 adults in developing countries.  She says the children’s glasses are based on that design.

“Picture putting on these glasses that have syringes and tubes on the side, and these little adjustment wheels.  And by adding or removing the fluid, via the removable syringes and the dials, the wearer can modify the power of the lens.  So the glasses are designed to provide vision correction, and they don’t need to have an eye-care professional there to actually do that.”

Dow Corning has committed $3 million of funding and materials-expertise to the project.  

Kuhnle says the partners plan to distribute 50,000 pairs of glasses to kids in developing countries within 12 to 18 months.  The partners still have to determine where exactly the glasses will go.

LSSU to burn snowman in annual event

Photo: A snowman burns last year on the campus of LSSU in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  Photo courtesy of Lake Superior State University.

Setting something on fire may be one of the clearest ways of illustrating frustration with it — so when folks at Lake Superior State University set a ten-foot snowman on fire, you can bet they’re ready for winter to be on its way.

LSSU Public Relations Director Tom Pink says the snowman-burning has become quite the event.

“There’s free hot dogs and pop; our student radio station is playing music.  When Bill Rabe started it, there were several English professors in the group, so there was always poetry.  Lately I should say there’s not as much poetry as there used to be; it seems people are more shy.  They just want to see the bonfire.”

Pink says the snowman is generally eight to ten feet tall, made of paper and a wire frame.  He says it usually burns pretty quickly.

“We try to have a little introduction at the beginning, and tell people about the history, and within a couple minutes of getting into that, there are usually some people telling us to just burn it.”

Pink says the snowman has occasionally been made to resemble goalies from opposing hockey teams, and once, during the Iran Hostage Crisis, it resembled the Ayotollah — although he says they wouldn’t do that again.

He also says a German tradition inspired LSSU’s celebration.

“It was started in 1971 by Bill Rabe, the same guy who came up with our list of banished words, and he and his group, the Unicorn Hunters, came up with the snowman burning.  He was aware of it through a German tradition, and he thought it would fit in here, because by the time spring arrives, people around here are usually pretty sick of winter.”

University presidents, retirees, and students have all gotten to light the snowman in the past.  LSSU’s physical plant crew builds the snowman, and experiments with different methods of igniting it — from matches and lighters, to model-rocket engines, according to Pink.

He tells us LSSU says goodbye to winter a few days early this year, since the first day of spring actually arrives on the weekend, on Sunday.

International Bridge to lower toll rate for Canadian currency

Administrators at the International Bridge say fluctuating exchange rates mean the Canadian toll will drop slightly next month.

Peter Petainen is Chief Financial Officer for the International Bridge.  He says the Canadian toll is currently slightly higher than the US rate, but they’ll be equal for passenger vehicles and commuters beginning in April.

“It has been consistently a drop in the Canadian toll rate over the last two years, as the value of the Canadian dollar has increased against the US currency.”

Petainen says International Bridge administrators are required to consider adjusting the Canadian-currency toll rate twice a year, using US currency as a reference.

“The rates will take effect April first.  There’ll be either an adjustment on October one, or not, depending on what the next six-month average is.  So if the Canadian dollar stays consistent for six months, the Canadian rates won’t change on October one.  If the Canadian dollar declines in value, we may or may not see an adjustment in the Canadian rates up.  It all depends on what the next six months hold for us.”

Petainen says the population on the Canadian side of the bridge is nearly five times the population on the US side.

“So 70% of the toll revenue that the bridge earns is in Canadian currency.  So as the Canadian dollar goes up in value against the US currency, we actually recognize the revenue at a higher value than we would when the Canadian dollar is lower.”

The crossing links Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Schuette: Military members should not face foreclosure while on active duty

Members of the military should not have their homes foreclosed on while on active duty, according to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. 
Schuette has issued a consumer alert, informing military members of their rights when it comes to home foreclosures.
According to Joy Yearout, a spokesperson for Schuette, the law is clear: in most cases, a home cannot be foreclosed on when it’s owner is serving on active duty.
“This means that when our men and women in uniform are overseas, fighting for our freedoms, that their families can continue to have a roof over their head, even if they’re having difficulties with mortgages,” she said.
Yearout says a service member’s home cannot be foreclosed upon while they are on active duty, or for six months after their deployment ends, unless otherwise ordered by a judge.
“Under federal law, service men and women are entitled to a temporary suspension of the foreclosure process,” she said. “They’re also entitled to reduced interest rates on mortgages.”
She also noted that in some cases, active-duty personel can also terminate lease or rental agreements without penalty.
On the Web
Attorney General Schuette’s consumer alert, including links for where to find help:

Current statistics show state unemployment dropping

This week the state released unemployment numbers for January. 
The statistics show that unemployment in Michigan declined by more than 20,000 and employment increased by 16,000.
“Some of our job levels are up over the past year in things such as manufacturing and business services but if you compare those job levels of employment that the state had prior to the national recession these levels still remain below pre-recessionary counts”  said Bruce Weaver; an economic analyst for the Michigan Department of Energy Labor and Economic Growth.  
Economists argue that even though the decline in unemployment is a positive sign; it also means less people in the state are working.  
From December 2010 to January 2011 the overall workforce in Michigan declined by 74,000 people. 
The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic growth said the decline in the workforce could mean three things.  Either fewer people are looking for work, more people are leaving the state, or more people are going back to school.
“A decline in the workforce is fairly common when the economy is weak.  So it’s quite common that the workforce doesn’t expand when jobs are hard to find.  Simply because people are having difficulty finding employment or just feel there are no jobs available” Weaver said.
 In January of last year the unemployment rate in Michigan was 13.7 percent.  This January it was at 10.7 percent. The lowest recorded rate in two years