Tens of thousands of people at the Burning Man Festival in northwestern Nevada are being told to conserve food, water and fuel and to shelter in place after heavy rain overnight turned the desert to mud.
Organizers said that due to the rain, the gate and airport in and out of Black Rock City — the temporary metropolis that springs up each year in the desert — remained closed as of 10:45 a.m. Saturday.
“Ingress and egress are halted. No driving is permitted until the playa surface dries up, with the exception of emergency vehicles,” organizers said in an emailed statement. “Participants are encouraged to conserve food, water, and fuel, and shelter in a warm, safe space.”
The Reno Gazette Journal reported that more than 73,000 people are currently at the festival.
Officials from the Bureau of Land Management and the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office have closed all entrances for the remainder of the event.
“Participants inbound for the event should turn around and head home,” the Bureau of Land Management said in a statement. “Rain over the last 24 hours has created a situation that required a full stop of vehicle movement on the playa.”
Places adjacent to the festival received a half-inch of rain or more between Friday and Saturday mornings, according to Mark Deutschendorf, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Reno.
Burning Man organizers reported that overnight Black Rock City received 0.6 to 0.8 inches of rain.
Although less rain is expected on Saturday, with only scattered showers, “the rain’s not over,” Deutschendorf warned.
“We have a higher chance of another round of steady rain later tonight into Sunday morning that could bring another tenth to a third of an inch, possibly even up to half an inch if it persists,” he said.
The rain should move out of the area by Sunday evening, he added.
The weather at this year’s festival is in stark contrast to last year, when temperatures were in the triple digits, reaching 105. Temperatures were forecast to be in the low 70s on Saturday and possibly not even out of the 60s on Sunday.
“We’re going the other direction, a cooler and wetter Burning Man weekend,” Deutschendorf said. “If anyone goes, they have to prepare for either extreme.”
Before leaving Ojai, Calif., for Burning Man, Tara Saylor faced the threat of Hurricane Hilary. Less than 24 hours after she left, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake hit her city, tumbling wine glasses in her kitchen.
When Saylor reached Nevada and tried to get into the festival on Aug. 21 to set up, she and her campmates weren’t able to get in because of the rain.
They waited two days, leading them to jokingly call it “Waiting Man.”
Once they were at the festival, the rain descended on them again on Friday afternoon, creating bowls of water in shaded structures and turning the alkaline lake bed into “a cakey mess.”
The mud coated bike tires and people were forced to carry bikes on their backs. Saylor pulled trash bags over her Carhartt waterproof boots to be able to slide through it.
Saylor said it took some campers an hour and a half to walk something like eight blocks.
“You’ve got the hurricane, you’ve got an earthquake and now a flood,” she said.
Saylor said she’s seen the founders of two different companies at Burning Man this year, but added, “it doesn’t matter how much money you have, nobody can do anything about it. There’s no planes, there’s no buses.”
“Money does not solve disasters like this.”
Saylor is mayor of her camp, Pickle Planet, which consists of about 100 campers. Their offering to the pop-up city is pickleball and a pickle back bar, which is whiskey and pickle juice.
The bar stayed open through the storm on Friday, with people stopping for respite as they trudged back to their own camps.
“Can we just have a shot of whiskey and we’ll be on our way?” campers asked. “We’ve got to keep trekking but we need warmth.”
When the rain hit, Saylor, who works in disaster management back home, quickly took stock of the camp’s fuel, food and communal spaces. The camp has water totes, with around 500 gallons of water. It also has its own porta-potty, she said, but most camps don’t.
She worried about bigger camps that rely on deliveries of fuel and water and to have their porta-potties pumped out.
“That’s what I would worry about the most is the sanitation issue that might come about,” she said. “Where are you going to start pooping if the porta-potties are full?”
“I wonder if at some point there’s going to have to be some intervention here,” she added. “What do you do about the sanitation issue? What do you do about the food issue? People were planning to leave today and tomorrow.”
The plan for the day? Saylor said she brought board games like Everdell and Azul and that campmates might “braid each other’s hair, play cards, just try to keep morale high as possible.”
She said she powers down the generator at night so they’re not using up fuel. She has to stretch half a tank for probably three or four days.
“Burning Man is radical self reliance and we’re being put to the test,” Saylor said.
The festival got off to a rough start this year and may have proved foretelling. On Aug. 27, opening day, climate and anti-capitalist activists blocked a road leading into Burning Man, creating miles of gridlock.
According to a statement from Seven Circles, a coalition of activist groups who organized the protest, the blockade aimed to spotlight “capitalism’s inability to address climate and ecological breakdown.”
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