01/09/2013 05:31 pm ET Updated Mar 11, 2013

Afternoon Tracks: Warming Woes And Climate Clues

Last year was the warmest ever recorded in the contiguous U.S., according to a report released on Tuesday by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In fact, 2012's average temperature of 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit broke the previous record by a full degree. But perhaps more significant for those concerned about public health is the fact that 2012 also boasted the second most "extreme" weather on record, complete with devastating droughts and storm surges.

A few coffee break reads to add perspective...

  • Dr. Howard Frumkin, the dean of the University of Washington School of Public Health, published an op-ed in Sunday's The Seattle Times that pushes climate change links beyond the obvious crop losses and tragic drownings. He highlights pervasive smoke from this summer's forest fires in Washington State and an epidemic of mold on Long Island after Hurricane Sandy, and then goes on to list many more direct and indirect health woes associated with warming:
  • Climate change hurts real people, right now -- respiratory diseases, injuries, depression, displacement, upended lives. Globally, the impacts include spreading infectious diseases, hunger aggravated by agricultural declines, wars over scarce resources.

  • Australia, too, is slashing many of its own temperature records. In their case, the heat itself is of greatest concern to health experts. Temperatures are predicted to reach 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) later this week. New Scientist reports:
  • The country is sweltering under a record-smashing "dome of heat" causing the worst fire threat on record, and forcing Australian meteorologists to add two colours to their heat maps... When it gets hotter than 35 °C, people have difficulty maintaining normal body temperature, putting strain on the heart. Babies, older people and those with heart conditions are most at risk.

  • Back on the side of the world where January still means mittens and hockey sticks, researchers are enlisting the help of ice skaters to collect climate change clues. Outdoor rink conditions, they say, have deteriorated in recent years with warming temperatures. Canadian citizens are now tracking when and where they are able to skate. The Ottawa Citizen interviewed Robert McLeman, an associate professor in the geography and environmental sciences department at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo:
  • "The season is getting shorter, and there are fewer skating days, and within the skating season there are more of these freeze-thaw-freeze events that mean you're not getting onto the rinks as often as you would have in the past," McLeman said.