Burning Man

Photo courtesy of Fest300

Rain Douses Burning Man

| published August 26, 2014 |

By Thursday Review staff

A popular, no-rules arts and design wingding held each year in the Nevada desert north of Reno is closed—at least for a couple of days—due to rare heavy rains. It’s a disappointment to the more than 65,000 people who attend the sprawling, free-form event, and the culprit is an unusual weather event which is mixing drenching rains with dust and sand to create a giant mess.

In short: this year’s weather did not conform for the sake of a festival which celebrates non-conformity.

Burning Man has been held every summer since 1996. The event draws sculptors, design artists, performance artists, inventors, craftsman, technologists, hippies, hipsters, and anarchists from all over North America and dozens of other countries, though a large percentage of those in attendance come from the west coast areas of the United States. The event, which started relatively small in the 1990s, has grown to become one of the most popular social events in the country.

Normally, the worst that Burning Man attendees can expect is the occasional dust storm, which—at their peak—may cause brief periods of whiteout conditions and cause many attendees to retreat to campers, motor homes or tents. But days ago, rains began falling heavily in some desert areas of eastern California and large parts of Nevada. The result has been a treacherous mix of water with playa dust, soft sand, and dried desert silt. The result is a thin layer of slippery mud on top of the hard packed desert floor; vehicles get no traction, and conditions become unsafe even for bicycles and pedestrians.

Event organizers hope that the rain will merely create a brief delay, but there are concerns than some attendees—thousands of them now camped along roads and jammed into other RV campground areas—may have to return to other parts of the country later in the week. Thousands of others have parked campers and trailers in raised elevation areas near the desert and near Reno. Many were packed into state and Federal parks and campsites, where alternate parties began in with enthusiasm.

There were already several hundred early arrivers and event volunteers at the Burning Man site, and state and local officials were advising that those inside the area remain within shelters and avoid unnecessary activity, even on foot or by bike. Nevada officials warned that emergency vehicles would be unable to reach people inside the festival area until the ground dried.

Various weather agencies have predicted that rains will pass on Tuesday, and there is little chance of rain later in the week. This raises the hopes of thousands that they can still attend an abbreviated version of the event as conditions get better. Still, it may take up to 48 hours for the slippery mud to dry to create conditions safe enough for vehicles to move around within the Burning Man area.

The festival lasts all week, and culminates in the burning (and/or euphoric destruction) of many of the tallest wooden and paper sculptures or constructions. Burning Man has few rules, and the not-holes-barred attitude of the event attracts many thousands of revelers each year. Many of the attendees are West Coast techies, and many more are hippies, artists and non-conformists from all over the country. A large volunteer contingent helps to keep the festival running smoothly, and also assists with the massive clean-up after the week-long activities have concluded.

Burning Man officials have asked that would-be attendees stay in safe locations until the festival is able to reopen, which—weather permitting—could be within the next day or so.