Climate Change: 101 - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Climate Change Overview

Climate Change in Minnesota: Minnesota Climate and Health Profile Report

NEW From extreme heat to ecosystem threats, real changes in Minnesota's climate are impacting the health of Minnesotans. Get a brief overview about the health effects of climate change in our new Minnesota Climate and Health Profile Summary (PDF) sheet.

Figure 1: Changes in Our Atmosphere Lead to Health Effects

Increases in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are leading to increases in ambient temperatures (see Figure 2), which in turn are leading to extremes in precipitation (see Figure 3).

Changes in our atmosphere lead to health effects

Source: MDH, 2016

The full Minnesota Climate and Health Profile Report (PDF), published in 2015, provides a comprehensive assessment of climate change impacts and potential health burdens specific to Minnesota. The report explains the pathways between identified Minnesota climate hazards (i.e., air pollution, extreme heat, flood, drought and ecosystem threats, including vector-borne diseases and harmful algal blooms) and their corresponding health impacts.

Figure 2: Average Annual All-Season Temperature for Minnesota

Minnesota has gotten noticeably warmer, especially over the last few decades. Data for the last half century (1960-2013) show that the recent rate of warming for Minnesota has sped up substantially to over 0.5 Degrees Fahrenheit per decade.

This figure shows a line chart of average annual temperature from 1895 to 2013 in Minnesota. Two trend lines highlight the first 50 years temperature increased at 0.5 degrees fahrenheit per century and in the last 50 years temperature increased at 5.3 degrees fahrenheit per century.

Source: NOAA/NCDC, 2014.

Figure 3: Minnesota Annual Average Precipitation (Inches)

With a warming atmosphere, more evaporation occurs. The rate of precipitation across Minnesota has increased by nearly 0.35 inches per decade over the last half century, a 7 percent increase in annual average precipitation.

This figure is a line chart that shows annual average precipitation in inches for Minnesota from 1895 to 2013. Two trends lines highlight the trends for two periods: 1895 to 1959 and 1960 to 2013. The first trend line shows a decrease of 1.5 inches per century in rainfall from 1895 to 1959 and the second trend line shows an increase of 3.5 inches per centry in rainfall from 1960 to 2013.

Source: NOAA/NCDC, 2014

Figure 4: Highest Twin Cities Annual Dew Points at 6:00PM CST

While many measures of dew point and humidity in Minnesota do not yet show evidence of increasing, the most extreme dew point values are becoming more frequent and more extreme over time. Based on historical data, annual maximum dew point temperatures (measured at 6:00PM CST) are increasing in Minnesota.

chart of dew point temperature trends in twin cities

Source: MN DNR State Climatology Office

All of these atmospheric influences (GHG emissions, temperature, precipitation, humidity) are directly or indirectly causing disruptions in four key aspects of the human environment—air, weather, water, and ecosystems. Changes in these areas are in turn leading to situations that threaten the health and vitality of human communities through increased air pollution, extreme heat events, floods, droughts and ecosystem threats (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Direct and Indirect Health Effects of Climate Change

This figure is a flow diagram that shows the climate hazards relevant to the health of Minnesotans - air pollution, extreme heat, floods and droughts, and ecosystem threats.

Source: MDH, 2016

For example, increases in ambient air temperatures and humidity are predicted to increase the frequency, duration and severity of extreme heat events. Direct health effects from extreme heat include symptoms associated with heat stress, such as fatigue, cramps, headaches and nausea, or responses that are much more extreme, including heat stroke, organ failure, and even death.

In 2012, there were 1,715 emergency department visits and six deaths due to extreme heat. In addition, heat waves can exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions or diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney ailments and mental or behavioral disorders. Indirect health effects from extreme heat include infrastructure failures like power outages; disruption of some occupations (especially those involving outdoor, strenuous labor), schooling, or major events, like athletic competitions or festivals; and a strain on emergency and health care services, in particular 911 response and emergency department operations.

For more information on climate change impacts on health, download the Minnesota Climate and Health Profile Report 2015 (PDF).


[1] Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., 2014: Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, 841 pp. doi:10.7930/J0Z31WJ2.

External resources on climate change:

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Climate Change 101 Training Module

image of the climate change and public health module cover page

MDH developed the Climate Change and Public Health 101 Training Module to provide an overview of the most likely climate changes in Minnesota and their potential impacts on public health. This module may be used as an educational piece for interested persons or as a "train the trainer" module for local public health departments. The training has been fully scripted for that purpose.

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Updated Friday, March 24, 2017 at 10:05AM