Burning Man organizers are brushing off concerns that record precipitation in the Sierra Nevada Mountains last winter could lead to muddy ground conditions at the site of the event, which takes place Aug. 27 through Sept. 4.
Promoters addressed the issue on the Burning Man website, stating, "The Playa is dry," and reassuring the 70,000 or so expected attendees this year would be the counterculture party's "32nd annual non-cancellation due to water."
"It's been pretty high and dry," says National Weather Service meteorologist Evan LaGuardia. "They had some flooding due to snowpack melt in the Sierra. All the water has dried up but it has left a claylike substance in the desert there. It was a record-breaking water year. But we've had a very hot summer as well."
LaGuardia recommended that attendees driving into the area consider using four-wheel-drive vehicles as a precaution. Runoff in the area was present as recently as July, he said. "I know it has a claylike substance because of the water that has run off from the Sierra," he says. "It's a little bit less dry than usual. It's just a little more wet than your dust bowl desert sand."
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"You should always have a car or truck capable of going over sand so it won't get stuck," the meteorologist adds. "I wouldn't bring a little car out there no matter what the conditions are."
He said thunderstorms have been rolling through northern Nevada, too. Two weeks is too far out, however, to predict the weather for Black Rock, Nevada, LaGuardia said. "That could always be a threat — any summer," he said of thunderstorms.
An official with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the Playa, said, "It's dry." A spokeswoman for the Desert Research Institute in Nevada added, "Our hydrologists trust that the BLM and their engineers have done enough surveying to determine the Playa is safe for driving and camping and very, very heavy art."
Still, the condition of the Playa seemed to be a sore subject for Burning Man organizers. Spokesman Jim Graham refused to make anyone available for an interview and pointed us to the website's statement on water at the Playa before becoming unresponsive to further inquiries. Other Burning Man officials were also unresponsive.