Why Burning Man’s flooding and exodus delays are a severe weather lesson

The Burning Man is supposed to arrive and disappear like a desert breeze.

Toward the end of each summer, participants in the massive multi-day festival head out into the Nevada wilderness. Their motto: “leave no trace”.

This year, thousands were stuck in the mud after about half an inch of rain fell in what is usually the driest state in the country. Rather than leave a trace, many of the self-described “burners” abandoned their bikes and vehicles in the muddy, wet Black Rock desert.

Once an underground carnival of free spirits, Burning Man is today famous as a party venue for Hollywood stars, Silicon Valley tech bros, and other wealthy elite. The latest event provides a glimpse into how extreme weather can dramatically change the environment at any given moment – and it often will.

“It’s a teachable moment in terms of climate disasters and extreme weather,” said Anya Kamenetz, a Burning Man attendee who had to flee the festival. “It’s just a trial run under really easy circumstances of what a lot of people go through.”

No single storm can be attributed to climate change. But flooding in Nevada is expected to become more frequent as storms intensify and snow turns to rain due to higher temperatures, according to state officials.

On August 27, as the festival began, climate activists took part Trapped Road to Burning Man in protest of its environmental footprint.

This year’s event is only expected to inflame critics who have long accused the festival of leaving trash in surrounding communities and not meeting its environmental goals as crowds rush away from camp. Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said that while festival-goers made the long journey to get to the exits, they left more than usual behind, including cars.

“This behavior certainly does not fit into the Burning Man’s Ten Principles,” he said. He added that the neglect is a “societal issue” and not necessarily the fault of the Burning Man Project, the group behind the festival.

Burning Man attendees take shelter during a downpour in Black Rock City, Nevada, on September 2. (Video: The Washington Post)

It rains on the burning man

At first the drizzling helped settle some of the dust swirling across the camp. But by Friday evening, the rain hadn’t stopped, and it didn’t take much rain to turn Playa into a muddy mess.

“By the time we went to sleep that night, it was really clear that this was going to be something that would shut down the city,” said Kamenetz, who writes a newsletter about climate change.

By Saturday morning, the stoves were besieged. Kamenetz said those who remained held a meeting at the camp. No more showering, no more washing dishes. No more using portable toilets except for solid waste.

Drone video captured on September 2 in Black Rock City, Nevada, shows the muddy grounds of Burning Man. (Video: Anonymous via Storyful)

The organizers are not sure when attendees will be able to leave urge Those who stayed to conserve food, water and fuel. The gates and airport were closed to get in and out of what was supposed to be a desert oasis.

Therefore, the burners are protected in place. Festival goers covered their tents with canvas to prevent rain. The mud was so thick and sticky that many left hiking books, walked through camp barefoot or put plastic bags over their socks.

To excavate the mud from a mobile toilet, Kamenetz unwraps an ornate, gold-toned shovel attached to a zebra-striped safari-themed vehicle that’s been brought to Burning Man as an “art vehicle.”

“It was golden,” she said of the shovel. “It’s not gold anymore.”

The revelers tried to make the most of the bad situation. During the day, the group sculpted a clay elephant. At night, they played music. As a sign, perhaps, that things were going to be all right, a rainbow appeared across the moor on Saturday.

“People really haven’t missed an opportunity,” Kamenetz said.

“Better prepared than normal Joe Shmo”

This year’s Burning Man brought some of the most extreme weather Kristen Lee has seen in the eight years she’s attended the festival.

But many enthusiasts, especially festival veterans, are resourceful and well prepared to survive an extra week off the grid, said the 39-year-old circus performer. Lee and his friends traveled in a compact convertible van, so they were equipped with heat, air conditioning and power — plus piles upon piles of cans of tuna wrapped in foil.

He told me, “I’ve had enough tuna for one more week.” She added that while there were moments of panic at the sight of overflowing toilets and calls to reserve food and water, those coming to Burning Man follow the principles of self-reliance and community.

“They will be better prepared than the normal Gu Shmu,” Lee added.

Video taken on September 2 showed Burning Man attendees navigating through the mud. (Video: Deborah Dumas via Storyful)

Burning Man’s social contract has been known to be largely off, though Lee does notice human excrement outside one trailer, and more thistles and rubbish – sights she hasn’t seen in the past year. He attributed to me that a small percentage of the attendees acted selfishly.

She said the wider community took the initiative to clear the land and shelter, feeding the crematorium who were struggling with dwindling resources. Burning Man is known to be ‘trade free’ – or at least strives to be – meaning that everything including meals and bike repairs is barter and community based.

“It just worked,” he told me, “there’s no other place I’d rather be in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.” “I would see people walking around with rubbish bags, offering water, handing out food. You see a place is clearly suffering because they look hungry and they don’t have a coat and you help them.

Video taken on September 2 showed Burning Man attendees making a clay sculpture. (Video: Kristenellisirk via Storyful)

The rain came as Reno, the nearby largest city, is in the middle of the second wettest year on record, according to Scott McGuire, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The region has entered “boom or bust” mode when it comes to rainfall, oscillating between rainy and dry years. “We’re swinging on that pendulum,” McGuire said.

He added that rainstorms like the one that occurred over Labor Day weekend are unusual but not unprecedented for the region.

The southwestern United States has seen more rain than usual this year, due to an active monsoon and the passage of Tropical Storm Hillary. Around the same time that heavy rains hit Burning Man, torrential rain also caused flooding in Las Vegas, which received 2.55 inches of rain during the monsoon season. 11th overall.

Today, Friday, the Meteorological Authority expected scattered thunderstorms in the region during the weekend.

Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell told NBC News that the group is “prepared for the full range” of weather scenarios.

“We chose a dry lake bottom” for the event, she said. “The environment is always the environment for survival.”

However, by Sunday, the displacement was under way even as the roads remained closed. During Labor Day, people push recreational vehicles and kick mud from under the wheels to get them moving. Others hobbled it on foot. Kamenetz walked more than three miles through the mud to catch the bus.

Burning Man attendees tried to free their cars from the mud on September 4th. (Video: The Washington Post)

Allen, the Pershing County sheriff, said that every year, large piles of trash are left in Reno and other places out in the desert.

“This year it’s a little different as there are many vehicles strewn all over Playa for many miles,” he added. “Some of the participants were not willing to wait or use the beaten track to try and leave the desert, and had to leave their cars and personal belongings where their vehicles were parked.”

Allen added that the Burning Man Project is responsible for cleaning up the trash in the desert. The project did not immediately Responding to a request for comment from The Washington Post.

By Tuesday morning, the departure was “running smoothly” despite the large number of passengers, the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office said. Nathan Carmichael said. The only major incident from Burning Man that the Sheriff’s office was actively investigating Monday was the death of Leon Reese, a 32-year-old attendee who was found unconscious at the festival on Friday.

Drone video captured on September 4 showed vehicles leaving the Burning Man festival. (Video: Reuters)

At Reno-Tahoe International Airport, operations are back to “business as usual” after a double dose of Labor Day traffic and stoves pouring into their homes, according to spokesperson Stacy Sunday.

On Monday, he said, the airport registered about 7,000 passengers, citing TSA data — compared to 4,000 to 6,000 on a typical day.

One of the ways airport officials usually prepare for Burning Man travelers is to have plastic bags on hand to wrap their dust-covered baggage so the baggage machines don’t get clogged. This year, the airport offered travelers disposable shoes to cover their muddy shoes.

“(It’s) the biggest thing we have because there’s construction outside, and there’s no barrier to sit on and make flight arrangements,” he said on Sunday. “They’re either in or out, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal.”

Burning Man attendees lit a large wooden effigy in the shape of a man on September 4. (Video: Amanda Ritchie via Storyful)

This year’s experience didn’t deter Lee from Burning Man, though she plans to pack more boots and gowns in case of inclement weather next year. She said that even the heavy rain created a joyful and artistic memory. During a brief period when the rains slowed down last weekend, people started walking in the streets and making art out of clay: clay minions, Buddhas and snowmen.

But Kamenetz, who has attended nine times, said this would be her last Burning Man, a decision she considered even before it rained.

“Is this really how I want to spend my free time?”

Jason Samino contributed to this report.

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