Weather: Black Rock City Gets Hit Again

When it was safe to walk around again, people made their way to the Commissary
When it was safe to walk around again, people made their way to the Commissary

Black Rock City got slammed a couple of more times today, and we probably haven’t seen the end of the fierce weather.

A furious and sudden afternoon rain and hailstorm turned the city into a muddy swamp. Power went out, and hail popped the window of a work truck. The frozen balls started out about a quarter-inch in size, and then got larger.

In a little more than 15 minutes, roads that had been drying out nicely from an early morning storm became lakes of standing water again. Workers took shelter where they could find it to ride out the latest battering.

And then … sunshine. And whoops and hollers. And astonished looks all around. We made it through again, but holy crap that was amazing.

Hail nearly the size of golf balls splashed into the puddles
Hail nearly the size of golf balls splashed into the puddles

And oh wow wouldn’t a soccer game in the mud be awesome!

The mood was light, but the prospects were serious. Thunderstorms were reportedly lined up for 20 miles, but there’s really no way to predict their path. The skies can be blue one minute, then dark with a storm cell another. A timely pro tip: Never leave your camp without securing all your gear: You can sometimes see a big storm coming, but smaller squalls can pop up quickly, and your chair or table can become a dangerous flying object.

“I think there is a very very real possibility of crazy weather this year,” said Marian Goodell, who, as one of the co-founders of Burning Man, ought to know. She remembers fierce winds blowing down shade structures in 2000, and it was so cold that she remembers hunkering down near the silver trailer in Media Mecca, shivering in the sun.

So. What’s the message here?

The hail started out fairly small but got larger quickly
The hail started out fairly small but got larger quickly

Be prepared!

Things can get seriously weird in the Black Rock Desert, and while seeing the cool pictures of fabulous clouds and rainbows is great, the larger point is to be ready for the worst. One of the things that binds participants together is the sense that you’ve prevailed over the elements, but to do that you have to be ready. Here are some handy reminders from the organization:

http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/securing.html#.U-l9-sZZwjI http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/weather.html#.U-l-E8ZZwjI

check out this real-time useful shizzle: http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/live_weather.html#.U-l-J8ZZwjI

and the survival guide page:

http://survival.burningman.com/your-survival-in-brc/the-elements/  http://galleries.burningman.com/pages/view.php?ref=33703 http://galleries.burningman.com/pages/view.php?ref=29473 http://galleries.burningman.com/pages/view.php?ref=29385

Yes, all this wild weather has a certain element of fun and wonder to it. Weldboy told one garbage-bag-wearing refugee, “You look so homeless!” And Roxy was saying that we were having “fox wedding weather,” when there are storms and rainbows intermittently.

Even before the rain stopped, the sun came out on the other side of the playa
Even before the rain stopped, the sun came out on the other side of the playa

A giant double rainbow appeared around sunrise. “I heard it,” Franny Penny said. Come again? “I heard it!,” she said. “I heard people oooo-ing and ahhhh-ing, and I went outside and saw it.”

Storm cells had moved over the city in the early morning hours, with heavy slashing rain and thick bolts of lightning around 4:30 am. By the time the sun was coming up, the intensity of the storm had lessened, and two gigantic rainbows formed over the playa. Everything seems outsized at Burning Man this year, from the Man himself to the rain to the wind to even the rainbows.

There didn’t immediately appear to be any physical damage, unlike the other morning when fierce winds near the BLM conclave near Point One took a modular office trailer  airborne and flipped it upside down. The wind also slammed a smaller jail unit into the corner of another modular office, taking out a power box with it.

“That’s why I tell the artists to make sure their installations can withstand 100-mph winds,” Joe the Builder said at the time. “Things happen out here.”

The rainbow over Black Rock City shortly after dawn (photo courtesy of Davis Galligan)
The rainbow over Black Rock City shortly after dawn (photo courtesy of Davis Galligan)

This morning, though, we were mostly just wet all over. The DPW daily meeting was initially moved from the Depot to the Commissary, because the roads were shut down, but then it was canceled altogether when more showers hit. Folks who didn’t get word showed up at the big tent anyway, and Commissary folks helped them take off their “playa boots” at the entrance. (When you walk in wet playa, thick layers of gunk build up on your shoes. Pro tip: Put plastic trash bags on your feet to beat the playa buildup.) At this point the rain seemed more of an annoyance than anything, and Cowboy Carl said, “I always thought women with muddy feet were sexy.”

Most of the crews are still confident that despite the delays and setbacks, they still will be able to get the city ready in time for your arrival.

But there is an undercurrent of danger, too. As Trailer Park Romeo said, “Mother Nature is going to do what she wants to do.”

So please, please please: be ready. Be ready to be self-sufficient. Be ready to shelter in place. Bring food and water and shelter, even a poop bucket. It hasn’t been cold for a number of years, but that doesn’t mean that this won’t be the year it gets chilly. Or worse. And if we get some rough weather, you can tune to BMIR radio for information and guidance.

The principle of radical self-reliance has never seemed more timely.

As Marian put it: “It’s not your mother’s Burning Man. Your mother isn’t here to take care of you, so take care of yourself and your neighbors. … Don’t get caught unaware … like it’s your first rodeo … be prepared.”

After the rain, people played a soccer game in the playa mud
After the rain, people played a soccer game in the playa mud

 

Here are some more pictures from the day:

 

About the author: John Curley

John Curley has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 he spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. John is a longtime newspaper person and spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since leaving the Chronicle in 2007, he was a contributing editor on Blue Planet Run, a book about the world's water crisis, and for the past two years has been a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He has also started an event and editorial photography business, and is also working on a book about the "Ten Dollar Doc" from Arco, Idaho, which will make a lovely film someday.

21 thoughts on “Weather: Black Rock City Gets Hit Again

  • The long range predictions I am seen for Event week are for highs in the mid to low 80’s and night time lows in the 40’s… All in all about 10 to 20 degrees cooler than last year.

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  • I remember Shark Bait playing through a crazy electrical storm at BM in 93. It was intense with all the lightning. Then the rain hit as the Metal and drum sticks came out and the cacophony was beautiful. We were soaked but had a blast.o

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  • “Yes, all this wild weather has a certain element of fun and wonder to it. Weldboy told one garbage-bag-wearing refugee, “You look so homeless!”

    …there are about 10000 words you could use to describe “fun and wonder” when it comes to the harsh environment on the playa, and using refugees & homelessness to describe “fun and wonder” might be the most facepalm-worthy.

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  • Checked accuweather for Aug. 23 – 31 here’s what it says: Daytime highs 90-96, night time lows 50-53. Sounds a lot like last year’s weather. Hot days. Cool down starts Friday the 29th, that’s when there’s low to mid 80’s.

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  • Have fun and be safe out there! Thanks for all your hard work building the City!

    Looking on the bright side, it’s wonderful that Mother Nature is providing ice for your coolers! ;D

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  • When the playa dries out, all those fun-in-the-mud holes will make driving and riding on the playa hazardous. But as long as DPW has a good time, who cares?

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  • 2000 was glorious !!
    I busted out my white ski jacket and matching 60’s white fur hat !!
    Those 2 items saved my ass along with a warm scarf!!

    Warm cozy winter clothes will save you darlings!!
    Have a great burn y’all !!
    Safety first!!
    XO

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  • Remember 1999/2000 and be prepared.
    Rain makes bikes tires fill with goop so think you can’t move. Boots are heavy so cover in plastic bags. The cold was bitter. Remember crosing the playa at dawn in thermans fleece and down sleeping bags snuggling couples to stay warm as you walked. But getting through that and the usual mix of sand storms makes everything more valuable and amazing. PREPARE FOR WORST TO ENJOY THE BEST.

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  • You guys need to come to the UK and ‘do’ Glastonbury. Good training for you. We may not have hail stones the size of golf balls, but we do rain and mud big time.

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  • To all the Moms – hang in there! Burning Man is soon to be finished and hopefully the rain has stopped. Your adult children will once again return with wonderful memories and smiles on their faces. The hail and the mud, thunder included, was just another feature of their spectacular event! How envious we can be for the event which draws people from all over. For now, we just watch from a distance, searching the internet for current news. Wouldn’t we have loved it………safe journey Steph! Love Mom

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  • Just looking for my friends from Topanga :) Fresh from the wedding of their son to his beautiful new Russian bride, Nadya. All the planning and preparation === I am
    so hoping you — Ned, Nadya, Linnea & Jordan — made the best of the weather and
    are smiling under a tarp or tent somewhere dry.

    We are thinking about you here at home in the tree house. Tika — in my lap.
    We are visualizing the sun shining down on you as smiles abound.

    Much Love — Victoria —–PEACOCK !!!!!!

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