Tens of thousands of people attending the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert are being told to conserve food, water and fuel as they shelter in place in the Black Rock Desert after a heavy rainstorm pummeled the area, festival organizers said.
Attendees saw their campsites transformed by thick, ankle-deep mud and organizers halted vehicles from traveling in or out of the festival after heavy rains started saturating the area Friday evening. Some festival-goers hiked miles to reach main roads while others hoped storms forecast to hit the area overnight wouldn’t worsen conditions.
Hannah Burhorn, a first-time attendee at the festival, told CNN in a phone interview Saturday the desert sand has turned into thick clay and puddles and mud are everywhere. People are wrapping trash bags and Ziploc bags around their shoes to avoid getting stuck, while others are walking around barefoot.
“It’s unavoidable at this point,” she said. “It’s in the bed of the truck, inside the truck. People who have tried to bike through it and have gotten stuck because it’s about ankle deep.”
The gate and airport into Black Rock City, a remote area in northwest Nevada, remain closed and no driving is allowed into or out of the city except for emergency vehicles, the organizers said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
“Do not travel to Black Rock City! Access to the city is closed for the remainder of the event, and you will be turned around,” one statement read.
More than 70,000 people attend the weeklong event annually, which this year is being held from August 28 to September 4. It’s unclear how many of those were stranded due to the weather.
The city is expecting more showers overnight on Saturday, organizers said in a weather forecast update. The National Weather Service said showers and thunderstorms are expected to return Saturday evening and continue throughout Sunday, with temperatures ranging from highs in the 70s to a low overnight of 49 degrees. Labor Day, on Monday when the event is scheduled to end, forecasts show the area will heat up and dry out with clear skis and a high of 75 degrees.
Rainfall reports from the National Weather Service suggest up to 0.8 inches of rain fell in the area from Friday morning through Saturday morning – approximately two to three months of rainfall for that location this time of year. Even small rainfall totals can lead to flooding in the dry Nevada desert.
Flood watches were in effect in northeast Nevada, to the east of Black Rock City. Those watches noted individual storms were producing up to one inch of rainfall, but higher totals — as much as 3 inches — would be possible through the weekend.
The Bureau of Land Management, which has jurisdiction over the land the festival is held on, is advising people heading to Burning Man to “turn around and head home,” as roads remain closed in the area, according to a statement obtained by the Reno Gazette-Journal.
“Rain over the last 24 hours has created a situation that required a full stop of vehicle movement on the playa. More rain is expected over the next few days and conditions are not expected to improve enough to allow vehicles to enter the playa,” the statement read.
The festival, which began in 1986, is held each summer in Black Rock City – a temporary metropolis that is erected annually for the festival. The city comes complete with planning services, emergency, safety and sanitary infrastructure.
It is best known for its concluding event, in which a large wooden symbol of a man is ignited. The event attracts tens of thousands each year and in the past, celebrities from Sean “Diddy” Combs to Katy Perry have attended.
The tens of thousands of attendees travel to and from the city along a two-lane highway to get to the festival, according to its website. The festival was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Burning Man participants dedicate their time to making art and building community. They can learn how to spin fire, or to pole dance, to make shrink art jewelry or build a giant sculpture of two people embracing and burn it down.
Some on-site preparations for this year’s Burning Man were impacted by tropical storm Hilary in August, with high winds, rainfall and even flooding reported in the desert, CNN reported.
Some Burning Man attendees hike through mud to get out of desert
Amar Singh Duggal and his friends managed to leave the festival after hiking about 2 miles in the mud, he told CNN. He estimated it took them about 2 hours to get to a main road where they arranged to be picked up and taken to Reno, about 120 miles driving distance southwest from the event grounds.
When Duggal and his friends saw the rain was not letting up on Friday night, they arranged for a driver to meet them the next morning. They decided to leave because they feared toilets would stop working and food might run out, he said.
“We made it, but it was pure hell [walking] through the mud,” Duggal said. “Each step felt like we were walking with two big cinderblocks on our feet.”