A heavy rainstorm in northern Nevada shut down Burning Man 2023 on Friday afternoon, causing flooding throughout Black Rock City and prompting officials to tell attendees to "shelter in place" until the ground dried out.
Driving was halted around the playa and roads in and out of the event were also closed. Airline flights and bus service were unavailable. Campers were also advised to secure their belongings against wind and ensure electric generators were safely away from standing water.
Burning Man Information Radio said around 12:45 p.m. Saturday that all burns, including that of the Man effigy, were "postponed indefinitely." It was unclear whether attendees—estimated at 80,000—would be able to leave at the scheduled end of the event on Monday, and if not, whether they had sufficient supplies to stay longer than anticipated in the remote desert region about 80 miles northeast of Reno.
Organizers urged attendees Saturday morning to conserve food, fuel and water. Some participants expressed concern that it would be impossible to service portable toilets, creating sanitary issues. Hosts at Burning Man Information Radio, which streams at bmir.org as well as over the air at 94.5 FM, urged people not to "use the playa as a bathroom."
According to the National Weather Service, about a third of an inch of rain fell in the area from Friday into Saturday morning. The desert area has received just shy of 5 inches of rain for all of 2023. However, Burning Man organizers said in a Saturday morning update that 0.6 to 0.8 inches of rain had fallen overnight.
Organizers said that showers were likely Saturday with a chance of thunderstorms before 5 p.m.; the chance of precipitation was 60%. Showers and thunderstorms were "likely" after 11 p.m. More showers and thunderstorms were likely before 5 p.m. Sunday, they added.
The Bureau of Land Management and the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday they had "closed ingress to the Burning Man event effective immediately and for the remainder of the event. Participants inbound for the event should turn around and head home," the agencies said.
"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."
By late Saturday afternoon, hosts at Burning Man Information Radio were urging people not to try walking out of the camp because Route 447, the nearest paved road, was closed. "No one is coming from Reno to pick you up," they said.
Rain turns the playa surface into a thick muck that clogs boots and tires. Organizers advised people who needed to walk around to put socks over their shoes. Several art cars and bikes were stuck in the mud or abandoned by their owners, as they were caught in the storm. Hosts at Burning Man radio urged participants with RVs to offer shelter to those who were camping outdoors.
With some generators unable to be run due to the rain, some attendees were concerned about keeping food at safe temperatures. Ice, normally sold at an outpost called Arctica, was being rationed Saturday: Customers could buy one bag of crushed ice or two blocks.
Burning Man takes place on a dry lake bed in Northern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert—a normally dusty, dry and hot environment. But in the weeks leading up to this year’s gathering, the area received an unusual amount of rain, with one storm causing a two-day delay during Build Week.
And rain during the actual event week is rare: The last time rain showered Black Rock City was a brief storm in 2014.
Out in the Mud, Catching a Double Rainbow
Despite the cold, rainy and muddy conditions, a hearty crew of Burners were still trudging around and making the best of the afternoon rain Friday.
Kristine and Harold Jones of Reno got caught on the opposite side of Black Rock City when the rain began and were in the process of a long walk back to their camp.
“I love the rain, actually,” said Harold, who has been to Burning Man seven times while Kristine was on her first trip. The couple had just come from a camp where a concert pianist played for those taking shelter from the rain.
A double rainbow emerged from the clouds at sunset, bridging the camps and ending at the Man.
Yips, howls and cheers erupted across Black Rock City as Burners emerged from their shelters to see the spectacle that even longtime Burners said they’d never seen.
And as heavy rain returned on Friday night, sound systems began thumping again. One near Center Camp played a timely set, with tracks like “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “Purple Rain.”
The storm system brought relatively cool temperatures to this year's Burning Man. Saturday's high was forecast to be 76, and Sunday's high was expected to be near 70.
Temperatures were forecast to dip to about 52 Saturday night. Some attendees don’t pack winter layers for the desert event, and many sleep in tents on the ground.
Most participants don’t have Wi-Fi or cellular phone service in the remote area, making it difficult to communicate the latest weather advisories to campers on the playa.
Burning Man takes place on public land and organizers urge participants to "leave no trace." However, with mud causing boots, bicycles and other items to become stuck in the playa, Burning Man radio hosts urged participants to take steps to ensure items were removed once the ground dried up.