Mother Nature, ticketless but bent on Radical Self-Expression, sailed into Black Rock City Monday morning, hurling showers of hail and lightning bolts and crackling the City with her megavolt loud-ass sound cloud. In the deluge, Ancient Lake Lahontan raised her Pleistocene head and, once again, became a shallow lake of standing water and then a mud bath like no other, shutting down roads and killing infrastructural power.
At 6:27 a.m. the Burning Man organization, Bmorg, sent out an “All Comm” Level 0 alert to limit driving and, by 6:47 a.m., upgraded it to Level 1 and closing Gate, all BRC roads (except to emer-gency vehicles), and issuing an order for citizens to shelter in place. County sheriffs coordinated safe u-turns from Highway 447 and set up road stops from every major route to redirect the 500-600 cars per hour ingress at this busiest of entry times. Burners were sent to Reno and surrounding communities until Tuesday.
Jim Graham, Bmorg’s Senior Advisor for Special Projects within the Communications team, said they blasted tweets and posts on social media, as well as announcements on BMIR via the I-Heart-radio app to alert burners not to drive in. “Some thought it was a joke,” he told the Beacon, “until they saw the Highway Patrol [turning people back] .”
The City was remarkably quiet, as everyone battened down hatches, bailed out tents, and stayed the hell out of the lightning. No staff or service vehicles, no art cars, and most important: no sanitation trucks. The portas grew rich as the day wore on. Black Rock City Airport was shut down as well, and will have to repack its two runways.
By afternoon, cheers went up as the sun finally came out, after a seemingly endless set of thunder and showers rolled through. By early evening many of the City streets were drying into a hard, bumpy cobble. The only open ice station, Arctica in Center Camp, had a line running all the way out the Esplanade.
An unknown number of Burners were stranded in their vehicles on Gate Road, unable to traverse the quagmire for the entire muddy, muddy Monday. “We hung them there or they would have gotten stuck,” Graham said. By 5:00 p.m. the BLM headed out with bullhorns inviting burners to pack up their lawn chairs and get ready to move in, after the 12-hour standstill.
Graham said Bmorg’s Unified Command Unit with the BLM prepares for such rain events. It had posted sanitation trucks (anticipating impossible travel on sludgy playa surface) at major porta potty stations and fuel trucks at key power infrastructural posts. Ranger station power was slated first to go online. By early evening the driving ban would be partially lifted for service vehicles, staff, and some art cars, provided roads were deemed safe.
As late as Sunday night Bmorg was on the phone with the National Weather Service, Graham said. The forecast for Monday was a 15% chance of showers, with a possibility of only 0.1 inches of rain. “Not enough for us to get people excited,” he said. The Bureau of Land Management, which often sees rain threats evaporate as soon as they appear in this region, left the call up to Bmorg. With that slightly elevated risk, Bmorg alerted relevant authorities but did not move to a Level alert.
Come the wee hours, it was a surprising and calamitous hit. Teksage, a Black Rock Ranger stationed at the Berlin Ranger Outpost in the 3:00 Plaza, noted “it was a lot of water in little time,” but that there were no major reports of damage in the City. “From a Ranger standpoint, [the storm] was a blessing,” he said, laughing. “Everyone mellowed out and stayed in place and it gave us room to breathe for a change.”
Ben Smith, Public Information Officer with Rampart Medical (5:15 & Esplanade) and the Emergency Services Department, was grateful for BMIR public safety announcements (stay inside, don’t stand near metal objects or carry umbrellas with metal points) in spite of the radio station tower getting zapped a couple times by lightning. Rampart saw only one victim of lightning strike. “He got a jolt and stayed with us for a few hours, but he was treated for mild injury and released,” Smith said.
A crew with the Man Watch, sheltering in place in the Souk beneath the Man, which was closed, told the Beacon, “I don’t know if the Man got hit, but it did conduct. My hair stood on end. Trust me, I wasn’t looking up.”
By 10:00 p.m. Monday night Bmorg reopened Gate, earlier than anticipated, after finalizing road surveys and reinforcing the playa surface at entry with decomposed granite.
The weather outlook for the rest of the week “looks good through the weekend,” Bmorg’s Graham said. “But there’s a possibility of rain by the end of the week.” We know what that means.