As stories flood out about Black Rock City floods, it’s time to separate the dramatic headlines from the realities of life in the muck at Burning Man 2023.
After two weeks at Burning Man, two floods and two days stranded on the playa, here are some truths and lies about life on the ground for the tens of thousands making the best of the situation in the Black Rock Desert this weekend.
Truth: No One Is Trapped Inside
Though the departure of many Burners has been delayed by two to three days, the mud and flooding isn’t trapping anyone inside their shelter. Most Burners are out and about—dancing, walking the playa, seeing the artworks, meeting friends—but walking in wet mud is a slow and challenging process, which keeps many attendees constrained to locations not too far away from their camps.
Lie: Sickness Is Spreading
There have been no credible reports of outbreaks of communicable illness since the rains on Friday that flooded the temporary city. Portable toilets were serviced right before the rains, and trucks were seen servicing them again on the drying playa on Sunday morning. The Pershing County Sheriff reported one death at the event, but it did not appear related to the storm.
Organizers said Sunday that a man, approximately age 40, died Friday and that his death was "unrelated to the weather." The Sheriff's Department did not respond to a request for details Sunday.
Truth: Most Burners Are Back to Burning
The vast majority of attendees are not panicking and seem to be making the most of the shutdown, with parties going on and Burners in generally good spirits, albeit muddy.
Lie: All of Black Rock City Is Underwater
Though a dry lakebed, the playa is not uniformly flat, with some areas a bit lower and more prone to flooding than others. Some tents and ShiftPods in low-lying areas have flooded, but not all of them. Much of the playa and some roads were almost dry Sunday morning before a midday rain arrived; some were still a mucky slog.
Truth: It’s Cold
While Burning Man’s normal daytime temperatures run can exceed 90 or even 100 degrees—as seen earlier this week—this weekend’s rains are keeping daytime temps in the 60s and nighttime temps dipping into the 40s—a dramatic shift for those who only packed their skimpiest desert Burn wear.
The last time measurable rain fell on the event was in 2014, and the only significant rain hit in 2001, so even veteran Burners do not pack rain gear—even jackets are not typically a must.
Lie: It’s OK To Pee on the Playa Because of the Storms
Nope. Still not OK.
Truth: The Playa Dries Quickly
When the rain stops and the sun comes out, the dry lakebed on which Black Rock City sits can dry out in a matter of hours. But until then, driving or even walking through it is nearly impossible. Only 4WD vehicles can easily pass—and even they can get stuck in the sticky, mucky clay of the Black Rock Desert. Dozens of vehicles that tried to drive out on Sunday—a Prius towing a trailer, for example—became immediately and hopelessly stuck, blocking the road and creating a new emergency.
Lie: Burners Are Running Short on Food and Water
One of the festival's "10 Principles" dictates that attendees at Burning Man be self-reliant. You must bring all your own food and water. And many who attend the weeklong gathering plan to leave before the final days on Labor Day weekend. Because those campers may not have brought enough supplies to stay two or three extra days, Burning Man officials issued a call to conserve supplies—not because they were nearing out.
Truth: Burners Look Out for One Another
Campers running low on supplies or lodging in soggy tents are connecting with their neighbors or larger camps. The Burning Man principle of “gifting” seems alive and well despite the storm, with tales of campers receiving care from others nearby.
Truth: MOOP Will Be a Challenge
Burning Man’s “Leave No Trace” policy on the playa means attendees must control their trash carefully. But after so many plastic bag-covered shoes and Burners running for cover from the rain, a lot more "matter out of place" (MOOP) has been seen—both small bits and larger items, such as from those “walking out” to get around closed gates and leaving bikes, camps and more.
Lie: Everyone Wants Out
Most Burners stay for the final day of the Burn on Sunday and are making the most of the last days, with more rain on Sunday but clear skies slated for Monday and Tuesday. However, many Burners come from across the country and overseas, which makes the inability to leave a serious concern.
Truth: First Burning Man With a Delayed Man Burn
For the first time in years, the festival's effigy, the "Man," was not set ablaze on Saturday night. On Sunday evening, organizers were hoping to burn him at 9:30, weather permitting. If not, the Man and several other art projects will have to be burned before the week is out rather than disassembled and taken away.