BLACK ROCK DESERT, Nev. – The combination of dust and wind created during the historic western heat wave was enough to nearly spoil the annual Burning Man Festival as visibilities dropped to near zero over the weekend.
Videos from concertgoers showed attendees meandering through Nevada’s Black Rock Desert during what organizers said were "white out" conditions Saturday.
The sudden dust storm occurred near the conclusion of the nearly nine-day event and forced organizers to temporarily close the main gate.
"Vehicles are becoming stranded and lost on the playa. Delay your departure until the weather has cleared," event organizers posted on Twitter.
The extreme weather conditions occurred before the annual tradition of the burning of a giant man-like figure, which signals event's closing.
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The weather impacts were not unpredicted, and National Weather Service meteorologists said it is not unusual to have local, sudden dust storms because of the nature of the dry lake beds.
"During the summer, it usually doesn’t take a whole lot of wind to start kicking up dust off the dry lake beds. So usually when we start getting winds up about 15 miles per hour or so, that’s enough to start kicking up dust and impacting air quality and visibility," a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Reno said.
The annual event’s home, Black Rock Playa, was formed from the remnants of Lake Lahontan, which disappeared around 9,000 years ago.
The Burning Man festival has been subject to extreme weather in the past, and organizers encouraged all attendees to bring goggles or face coverings because of the known issues with blowing sand and dust.
Activities such as driving or even foot traffic from the estimated 80,000 attendees can cause the dust to start swirling.
The crowd’s departure, known as "the exodus" was also impacted by dusty conditions and temperatures that soared above 100 degrees.
As of early Tuesday, the "exodus" wait time was estimated to be nine hours to leave the grounds, which are located about 100 miles north of Reno, Nevada.
"If you are still in Black Rock City wait to leave. If you are on Gate Road, turn off your vehicle to conserve gas, and be patient. Teams are working to keep the roads safe and get everyone home safely. Gas up in Gerlach due to a fuel shortage in Empire," event organizers posted on Twitter.