Tens of thousands of Burning Man attendees in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert faced challenging conditions as they had to traverse through rain and mud following an unusual bout of rain in the region. The Black Rock Playa, which hosts the annual festivities, is a flat expanse that was once a prehistoric lake over 15,000 years ago.
According to CBS News, the desert received the equivalent of about three months’ worth of rain, with up to 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) falling on September 1. Normally, the region experiences approximately 6 inches (15.2 cm) of rain annually. Due to the flat terrain, the water collected, creating thick mud that made movement difficult.
Attendees shared videos online depicting the dramatic change in the area before and after the rain. Satellite images released by NASA show the extent of the water pooling in the desert, leading to the challenging conditions that garnered attention over the weekend. The images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite illustrate the desert’s appearance on August 26, before the rain, and on September 4, illustrating the saturated ground, rainwater, and lakes in various shades of blue.
Another satellite image, captured by the Operational Land Imager-2 (OLI-2) on Landsat 9, reveals the dark areas where the ground became muddy or saturated with water after the rainfall.
Although some have speculated about the potential link between climate change and the unusual desert rainfall, climate scientist Daniel Swain suggests that while climate change could be a factor in the heavier downpours, attributing the event solely to climate change may not be accurate.
Tragically, amidst the adverse weather conditions, one attendee lost their life. 32-year-old Leon Reece was discovered unresponsive during the storm on Friday evening. Although authorities initially abstained from connecting his death to the weather, they later acknowledged that the rain impeded the timely arrival of help.
While most attendees managed to navigate the unexpected weather, the uncommon rainfall and resulting mud created significant challenges for Burning Man participants.