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I’m sure the Burning Man festival used to be counter-culture and cool but at this point it seems more like a version of Coachella for the Silicon Valley set. I say this because when I lived in the Bay Area, I used to meet men in bars or on dates who worked in tech who would brag about going to Burning Man. They thought it made them unique and cool, like they were the only software engineer from Oracle who had ever been there. But now it’s a cliche among those tech-y circles. Burning Man takes place in a remote corner of Northwest Nevada in a desert called a playa, a sunken dry lake bed. People camp and make art installations and there’s live music but there aren’t any headliners and it’s kind of chaotic. (Diplo and Chris Rock were in attendance this year…what an embarrassment of riches.) Since this is the summer of unprecedented weather, guess what–this part of Nevada got two months’ worth of rainfall in one day. Because the water can’t run off from the landscape, it just sinks into the dry lake bed. So people were stuck at Burning Man all weekend because all the roads have turned to mud. It’s even hard to walk because the mud is so cement-like it clings to people’s shoes. About 70,000 people are there. I dread to think what has become of the porta-potties.
70,000 people have been ordered to shelter in place:
Thousands of people remain trapped at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert after heavy rains inundated the area and created thick, ankle-deep mud which sticks to campers’ shoes and vehicle tires. Attendees were told to shelter in place in the Black Rock Desert and conserve food, water and fuel after a rainstorm swamped the area, forcing officials to halt any entering or leaving of the festival. “A little over 70,000 people,” remained stranded Saturday, Sgt. Nathan Carmichael, with the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, told CNN Sunday morning. Some people have left the site by walking out but “most of the RVs are stuck in place,” he said.
They haven’t been able to “burn” the “Man” because of the weather: Event organizers announced earlier Sunday plans to burn the Man – the huge totem set on fire at the festival’s culmination – on Sunday night if weather allowed. However, the burn was rescheduled for Monday night “due to rain and muddy conditions Sunday, and an inability to move heavy equipment and fire safety onsite,” organizers said.
The roads at the festival are closed indefinitely: “We do not currently have an estimated time for the roads to be dry enough for RVs or vehicles to navigate safely,” Burning Man organizers said in a Saturday evening statement. “Monday late in the day would be possible if weather conditions are in our favor. It could be sooner.” Organizers noted the rain falling on an already saturated playa overnight and Sunday “will affect the amount of time it takes for the playa to dry.”
For now, the gate and airport into Black Rock City remain closed and no driving is allowed into or out of the city except for emergency vehicles, the organizers said on social media. Black Rock City is a temporary metropolis erected annually for the festival and comes complete with emergency, safety and sanitary infrastructure.
Some people have tried to leave on foot but are getting stuck: “People who have tried to bike through it and have gotten stuck because it’s about ankle deep,” Burhorn said. The mud is so thick it “sticks to your shoes and makes it almost like a boot around your boot,” she added. It’s unclear exactly how many people are stranded at the festival, but typically more than 70,000 people attend the weeklong event. It’s being held from August 28 to September 4 this year.
As I’m writing this the driving ban was just lifted but it was still taking about 7 hours for people to get out. I can tolerate camping but thick, gloopy mud up to my ankles? No thank you. There weren’t any injuries related to the mud as far as we know so I’m glad for that, although the article reports that a 40-year-old man died of causes unrelated to the rain. Anyway, at this point Mother Nature isn’t so much ringing the alarm bell as she is hitting us on the head with a frying pan. But we’ve brought it on ourselves. The world isn’t just getting hotter, the weather is getting weirder, and deluges of rain in the desert are just one of the weird things we’re going to see more and more often.
I’ll be honest, I do feel some Schadenfreude specifically for the tech bros who went to Burning Man to take mushrooms and wear assless chaps, only to be stranded in the mud and totally unprepared for it. I’m sure most attendees are well prepared but you have to figure as the event gets larger there are more people who won’t know what they’re doing. It’s a shame Elon Musk wasn’t there this time–he’s gone every year for almost two decades–it would have been hilarious to see him glooping around in the mud, looking miserable. I hope that mental image brings some of you as much joy as it did me.
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