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Thousands stranded at Burning Man festival after heavy rains

What we're covering

  • Officials say about 70,000 people are stranded in the Nevada desert after heavy rains swamped the annual Burning Man festival, leaving thick, ankle-deep mud.
  • Attendees were told to shelter in place in the Black Rock Desert and conserve food, water and fuel, but some have chosen to hike to the nearest town. Officials have closed the road in and out of the festival to all but emergency vehicles.
  • The remote event site in northwest Nevada was hit with 2 to 3 months’ worth of rain in just 24 hours from Friday to Saturday morning. More is anticipated Sunday afternoon.
  • Authorities are investigating a death "which occurred during this rain event," according to the sheriff's office — though it is unclear if the death was related to the storms.
6:40 p.m. ET, September 3, 2023

President Biden has been briefed on the situation at Burning Man festival

A still from a drone video shows vehicles trying to leave the Burning Man festival on Sunday, September 3. CNN

President Joe Biden was briefed Sunday on the situation at the Burning Man festival in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, according to a White House official.

The administration is monitoring the situation and is in touch with state and local leaders.

Event attendees should listen to local authorities and event organizers, the administration official said.

8:09 p.m. ET, September 3, 2023

Comedian Chris Rock and DJ Diplo walk for miles before hitching a ride out of Burning Man

Chris Rock appears in a video shared to Diplo’s social media on Saturday. From Diplo/Twitter
Comedian Chris Rock and DJ Diplo hitched a ride out of the rain-soaked Burning Man festival in the bed of a fan's pickup truck, but not before hiking miles through thick mud, videos posted to social media show.
Rock shared a short video on Instagram Stories of the swampy conditions at the festival grounds on Saturday. A heavy rainstorm battered Nevada’s Black Rock Desert Friday evening and made the typically arid "playa" a "mucky, muddy" mess, attendees said.
While all non-emergency vehicle traffic has been blocked by authorities, and attendees have been asked to stay in place, some festivalgoers have chosen to make a roughly 6 mile hike out of the playa.

That apparently included Rock and Diplo. The DJ said in an Instagram post that the unlikely pair walked several miles through the mud before a fan offered them a ride.

Diplo then posted a series of videos showing him board a flight — muddy and shoeless.

"No one was making it out of burning man they didn’t believe we would walk 6 miles in the mud. No one believe we would get to DC for the show tonight, but God did," he wrote in an Instagram Story posted Saturday.

After making it out of the desert, Diplo said he flew to Washington, DC, for a Labor Day event at Echostage and played for "three hours after walking ... four hours out of the desert and taking a flight — mud still on my face," he said in a video, recorded as he soaked in a hotel bathtub early Sunday.

6:17 p.m. ET, September 3, 2023

Festivalgoers are managing to have a good time despite being stuck in the mud, attendee says

Barbara Wahl reads a book to pass time while waiting to leave Burning Man on Sunday, September 3. Trevor Hughes/USA Today Network

Dawne Looney, a Burning Man festival attendee, says people are making the best of the situation despite the heavy rain and mud stranding an estimated 70,000 of them in the desert.

"We are great. It is a great community. We rallied together. Staff has plans X, Y and Z, and everybody's kind of having a good time, oddly enough," Looney told CNN.

"Weather has got us. We are working it out," she continued. And while most are making do, "some people are, you know, a little upset that we are not driving. But it's in everybody's best interest to shelter in place."

Looney said she's not worried about running low on supplies: there are some people eating sushi and prime rib, and one of Burning Man's core tenets is sharing resources.

The gate which allows vehicles in and out is still closed, and people are being told to stay put. Only ambulances are available to get people with medical needs to Reno, Nevada, Looney said.

Looney's camper is currently one of many vehicles stuck in the mud, and she has no plans to get it out of the desert tonight, she said.

Despite the complications from rain, Looney commended organizers: "They have their act together and they're doing a stellar job."

Asked if she would attend Burning Man again, she said, "Jury's totally out."

"Last year was tough. This one will break you," Looney told CNN.
4:24 p.m. ET, September 3, 2023

Organizers say they still plan to "burn the man" if weather permits

The Man structure, which is normally burned on Saturday night, looms over the Burning Man encampment Sunday, September 3. Trevor Hughes/USA Today Network/Reuters

Organizers for the Burning Man festival, which is currently experiencing severe weather, still plan to host its culminating event tonight — the burning of a large wooden effigy.
"We plan to burn the Man at 9:30pm tonight (12:30 a.m. ET), weather permitting," organizers said in a series of social media posts

Officials urged attendees not to try to leave the event grounds, and promised more information later in the day.

"The roads remain too wet and muddy to officially open them for Exodus," organizers said, using the festival's term for its prolonged conclusion and exit process. "There is also an uncertain weather front approaching Black Rock City. Please do NOT drive at this time. Road conditions differ based on the neighborhood. We will update you on the driving ban after this weather front has left the area."

Officials noted that some vehicles with four-wheel drive capabilities have successfully left the event location, but "we are seeing most other types of vehicles that try to depart getting stuck in the wet mud which hampers everyone’s Exodus."

Some festivalgoers have shared stories of their successful 6-mile hikes away from Burning Man.
The worst of the rain Sunday is expected between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. local time (3 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET), according to the National Weather Service and CNN analysis.
3:09 p.m. ET, September 3, 2023

What to know about Burning Man — the festival where thousands are now stranded

A Burning Man attendee walks their bike through the mud near the exit Sunday, September 3. Trevor Hughes/USA Today Network

A temporary city of some 80,000 people rises each year in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. This year's edition of the festival, known as Burning Man, got underway last Sunday, but has been troubled by rainstorms which have now stranded thousands of people.
Named for the huge totem set on fire at the festival’s culmination, Burning Man participants say they dedicate their time to making art and building community. That community is based on 10 principles written by Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey, which include inclusion, civic responsibility and gifting. No commercial sponsorships or transactions are permitted on the playa — the name used for the typically arid, sandy setting.

Another tenet is the principle of "leaving no trace." The city disappears at the end of each year's event.

The festival’s 2023 theme is “Animalia,” which the Burning Man website explains, “will celebrate the animal world and our place in it — animals real and imagined, mythic and remembered — and explore the curious mental constructs that allow us to believe that imagined animals are real, real animals are imagined, and that somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, mankind is somehow not part of the animal kingdom.”

Before the rain interfered with plans for the festival's final days, the 2023 event featured other art installations designed to be burned at the end of their short lifespans, including

That included a giant steel phoenix representing the resilience of war-torn Ukraine.

Festival attendees walk through mud at Burning Man on Saturday, September 2. Trevor Hughes/USA Today Network

Weather troubles: While Burning Man attendees come prepared to camp in an often harsh environment, weather has been particularly challenging for this year's festival organizers.
Some on-site preparations were impacted by Tropical Storm Hilary, with high winds, rainfall and flooding reported in the Black Rock Desert.
Access to the site for "burners" (the nickname used by many regular attendees) arriving early was limited for two days to allow the playa to dry out, as organizers wrote on social media that, “large amounts of the playa remain either covered in standing water or damp & impassable.”
Work on the event’s famed “temple” building, which this year is called “The Temple of the Heart,” was also affected by the weather. Muddy conditions limited the construction process and pushed it behind schedule, the team behind the building wrote on Instagram.
Then more rain came during the festival itself, with 2 to 3 months’ worth of rain falling on the remote event site in just 24 hours from Friday to Saturday morning. More is anticipated Sunday afternoon.
12:25 p.m. ET, September 3, 2023

Burning Man organizers working to provide cell service and medical resources as attendees shelter in place

Burning Man organizers say they are placing mobile cell trailers around the battered festival grounds, configuring their Wi-Fi system for public access, and sending buses to nearby Gerlach, Nevada, to pick up people who might have walked out of the desert and ferry them to Reno.

Event staff members are also calling in more four-wheel-drive vehicles and all-terrain tires to help in the case of any medical or other urgent situations. Traffic in and out of the event grounds remains closed to non-emergency vehicles.

Some attendees managed to walk to a main road and were waiting for the buses sent by festival organizers Saturday night, the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office said.

Resources have been brought in from around northern Nevada to help people with medical needs on the event grounds, authorities added.

“Burning Man is a community of people who are prepared to support one another,” the organization said on its website. “We have come here knowing this is a place where we bring everything we need to survive. It is because of this that we are all well-prepared for a weather event like this.”

“We have done table-top drills for events like this,” organizers added.

“We are engaged full-time on all aspects of safety and looking ahead to our Exodus as our next priority,” they added, using the festival's term for the time-consuming conclusion and exit from the desert.
8:09 p.m. ET, September 3, 2023

Attendee describes his "incredibly harrowing" 6-mile hike out of Burning Man

Law professor Neal Katyal described his overnight hike out of the Burning Man festival early Sunday morning as “harrowing” in a social media post.
“It was an incredibly harrowing 6-mile hike at midnight through heavy and slippery mud, but I got safely out of Burning Man. Never been before and it was fantastic (with brilliant art and fabulous music)…except the ending,” Katyal said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.  

There are currently "a little over 70,000" people stranded at the festival in northwest Nevada due to the mud and flooding, according to Pershing County Sheriff’s Sgt. Nathan Carmichael.

"Some people are walking out," Carmichael told CNN on Sunday, but event organizers and local authorities are urging attendees to stay put until the roads are safe to travel. More rain is expected Sunday afternoon.

View Katyal's post below:
10:28 a.m. ET, September 3, 2023

Some of the 70,000 people stranded at Burning Man are walking out of the site, sheriff's office says

A festival attendee walks through mud at Burning Man on September 2, in Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Trevor Hughes/USA Today Network

There are currently "a little over 70,000" people stranded at the Burning Man festival in Nevada due to the mud and flooding, Pershing County Sheriff’s Sgt. Nathan Carmichael told CNN on Sunday.

The last few days of rain have created conditions that are "very greasy, very muddy" and the mud "seems to stick to people, stick to tires (and) makes it very, very difficult to move vehicles around," he said. The sergeant said most RVs at the site are stuck in place.

"Some people are walking out," Carmichael told CNN, but organizers and the sheriff's office are "asking people to stay in place until the ground becomes hard enough and safe enough to travel."

The majority of people are in "good spirits" and there are no shortages of food or water, Carmichael said.

"Whatever resources are out there, they will use and share with each other," he said of the festivalgoers, who are known to form a tight-knit community and share supplies during the annual event.
The sergeant said the investigation into the death of one person at the desert festival is ongoing, but he provided no additional details, including whether the incident was related in any way to the weather.
11:27 a.m. ET, September 3, 2023

Forecasters expect more rain at Burning Man festival Sunday afternoon

Muddy campgrounds are seen at Burning Man festival on Saturday. Courtesy Andrew Hyde
Additional rain from showers and thunderstorms is likely to impact the Burning Man festival on Sunday afternoon, according to the forecast from the National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada.
Rain has been swamping the typically arid festival grounds since Friday, leaving the desert a "mucky" mess that's difficult to walk through, and halting all non-emergency traffic in and out of the area.

Overnight radar estimates, combined with observations, indicate a quarter to half an inch of rainfall has occurred since Saturday evening.

Computer models suggest showers and a few thunderstorms will increase across the Sierra by daybreak on Sunday, with showers and thunderstorms spreading into western Nevada during the afternoon hours. The Reno NWS office notes, “Stronger storms will be capable of very heavy rainfall, small hail, and wind gusts to 40+ mph.”

CNN analysis shows this is likely over the Burning Man site in the Black Rock Desert from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. local time (3 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET).

The NWS projects a 60% chance that a tenth to a quarter of an inch of rain will fall, a 20 to 30% chance for a quarter to half an inch, and a 10-15% chance that stronger storm clusters could bring an inch or more in a short period of time.