After torrential rains at the Burning Man festival in northwestern Nevada stranded tens of thousands of people for days in a sea of slop and mud, organizers said on Monday that they expected people could start leaving by midday as the ground dried up.
In a statement on Burning Man’s website, organizers said that the main route in and out of the ancient lake bed where the annual celebration of art and music is held was still too wet and muddy for vehicles to pass on Monday morning, but that they hoped it would be passable by noon Pacific time.
Even in normal years, the process of leaving the festival — known as Exodus — can take up to 12 hours as thousands of cars and trailers creep off the desert playa and onto a jammed two-lane road. This year, organizers urged people to consider postponing their departure until Tuesday to avoid creating an epic traffic jam in the remote desert.
But some were not waiting. On Monday morning, a convoy of jeeps and trucks was already trying to leave ahead of any official announcement, churning up mud in its wake.
The improved weather forecast on Monday night may also allow for Burning Man to hold a twice-postponed climax of the festival: the burning of a towering wooden effigy shaped like a man.
Muddy conditions and the inability to move heavy fire safety equipment to the burning site were also to blame for the delays, officials said on a social media account linked to the festival. The burn had initially been scheduled for Saturday night but was postponed to Sunday and then again to Monday night.
The weather across the area was expected to be drier and warmer on Monday, but a low pressure system may bring light rain showers by Monday night into Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service said.
The event is held in Black Rock City, a temporary community that pops up each year in the middle of Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada. Alternative routes have been created and may be available on Monday.
By Sunday night, the atmosphere around Black Rock City had become mellow and much more subdued than on Saturday, when attendees were urged to shelter in place and conserve food and water. Many of the dance and bar structures were dismantled during the dry lull on Sunday afternoon, and by the evening, attendees, who call themselves burners, were walking around the still-sodden site, many with plastic bags over their shoes to protect them from the oatmeal-thick mud.
The makeshift town hosts more than 70,000 people every year and is a three-hour drive from the nearest airport, which is more than 100 miles away in Reno. This year’s event began on Aug. 27.
The authorities were also investigating the death of one participant but said it did not appear to be weather-related.
The festival site had been slammed with rain since Friday, creating dangerous and muddy conditions for those attempting to leave. Other parts of Nevada were also walloped with fast-moving thunderstorms and flash flooding over the weekend. Heavy flooding was also reported on the Las Vegas Strip.
Attempts to flee the site have been widely circulating on social media, including a video posted by the music producer Diplo. He said on Saturday that he and the comedian Chris Rock had walked five miles in the mud before being picked up by fans. The video showed the men and others sandwiched in the back of a pickup truck.
Another burner, Neal Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown University and former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, was among those who hiked six miles to Gerlach, the nearest town. He and others made the trek with essential supplies in their backpacks and with plastic bags on their bare feet with socks overtop and then stuffed into boots or shoes.
By Sunday afternoon, a White House official said President Biden had been briefed on the situation and that administration officials had been in touch with state and local officials.
Mayor Hillary Schieve of Reno said Sunday on social media that the city was working with regional partners to prepare for a mass exodus of Burning Man. Certain parking lots of the local convention center were available for use, she said.
But for a festival that prides itself on grit and self-reliance, some attendees were taking the chaos in stride.
“This is the best Burning Man I’ve ever attended and I wouldn’t trade it for an early departure,” said Fausto Zapata, 51, of Los Angeles. “People were expecting catastrophe and ended up finding community. If at the end of the day Burning Man is about radical self-reliance, it came out in the most radical of ways this year.”
Anna Betts and Amanda Holpuch contributed reporting.