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How to Survive a Dust Storm at Burning Man

Photo by: Art Gimbel
by Art Gimbel Fri August 25, 2017 | 02:50 PM

Goggles, shelter, and a cool head will keep you safe in the wildest of desert storms you might encounter at Burning Man. 

Located at Black Rock Desert Nevada (40 45' 13.83"N, 119 16' 37.20" W), these alkali flats have long lured daring humans well before Burners started trekking to the playa. From human ancestors around 11,000 B.C. to prospectors heading to the California Gold Rush, many crossed this Great Basin on what's now known as the Emigrant Trail laid by "The Great Pathfinder” John Fremont. From rocket launches to land speed records, this long dry lakebed has attracted visionaries, travelers, and truth seekers.

Anatomy of a Desert Storm

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Photo by: Galen Oakes

On August 9th, 2013 John Curley wrote on Burning Man Blog: "A hot but otherwise benign Thursday afternoon turned into a vicious reminder that hey, no matter how far Burning Man has come in mastering the art of event logistics, Mother Nature still makes the final call around here." 

Mother Nature is boss in the Black Rock Desert. As recent days have show you can expect almost anything in this former lakebed. In most years, it's hot and dusty and a few big dust storms will happen on any given day at Burning Man.

Radical Self Reliance

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Photo by: Galen Oakes

Your well-being in the harsh desert is up to you. Study up and come prepared.

Be Emotionally Ready

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Photo by: Galen Oakes

Prepare yourself for the mental journey you will experience on the playa. Read up in Chip Conley's Emotional Survival Guide to Burning Man

Gear Up

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Photo by: Galen Oakes

Shelter

  • A good tent that is well staked will be your refuge to ride out a storm.
  • Rebar is the prefered way to stake your tent. The "Candy Cane" method is the best way to go.
  • Make sure your rebar is covered as a large number of injuries occur every year from uncovered rebar on the playa.
  • Read up on Burning Man's Securing Your Structure post.

Burning Man Goggles

  • A wide variety and styles of Burning Man goggles are available. 
  • Ski goggles work well, too, and you might already have them.

Dust Masks

  • You will see everything from apocalyptic gas masks to flimsy dust masks.
  • Scarves make a stylish and makeshift dust mask.

Safety First!

While you might want to throw all caution to the wind and go riding into a dust devil like this, we encourage you to keep a cool head and let good judgement guide you.

Orientation and Navigation

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Amid the chaos is a fairly well-organized city with road signs, streets, and order. Study a map, get the lay of the land, and trust your judgement first.

Black Rock City Map 2017

Photo by: Burning Man

Embrace the Storm

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Photo by: Galen Oakes

Sometimes you just might want to ride out the storm at a dance party. It could be the only way to distract yourself from the disorientation you might experience during the storm.

A Story

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Photo by: Galen Oakes

Everfest's Creative Director Eamon Armstrong describes a moment caught in a storm:

"The most romantic time I ever had at Burning Man was in the middle of a dust storm. A sudden and total whiteout left my girlfriend and I desperately clutching hands as we crossed the playa together. Complete blindness forced us to rely only on each other, and as the dust whipped around us we stumbled onward laughing at our foolishness. That moment of trust has stayed with us ever since."

 

Tips and Tricks

 

  • Safety First. In dust storms visibility nears zero. Don't bike, don't drive, and walk back to safety. Shelter up and beware of mutant art cars. You just might find something amazing.
  • Tune into BMIR 94.5 for radio updates during a large storm or any emergency event.
  • Don’t orient yourself off Art Cars or even street signs. Art Cars move and pranksters switch signs. It is a temporary city, but best to navigate on fixed art pieces and center camp. Though signs may switch, the streets and your camp will be in the same place.
  • Embrace the moment and enjoy the company you're with. Hold tight, it will pass.
  • Prepare before you go, bring your dust mask, goggles, and water on any playa adventure – just in case.

What are your best ideas for surviving a dust storm at Burning Man? Share with us your thoughts or a Burning Man storm story in the comments below.

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Burning Man

Start Date: August 27, 2017
Black Rock City, Nevada, United States