Surviving the Wind

Big wind storm

When people think of camping out in the desert, they think of the extreme heat, but they do not always give consideration to the power of desert winds. Let me tell you, they can be fierce!

In 1998, we encountered some winds that were breathtaking in their power. One storm pushed the Land Yacht into Pepe Ozan's stage for his opera, "Temple of Sidra." The wind came with little warning and caused white out conditions. The pilot of the Land Yacht was clearly not prepared for the wind and as a result there was a serious injury to a passenger, the stage was badly damaged and the Land Yacht was totalled.

Land Yacht gets wrecked
The Land Yacht runs aground into the Temple of Sidra.

In 1999, the winds are predicted to be even worse. We have heard of gusts out at the site up to 80 miles per hour. We have heard of unsubstantiated reports of winds even higher than that! With winds blowing that hard, you need to make sure your tent is secure, because in a heavy windstorm you will not be able to stop your tent from blowing away. It is doubtful that you will be able to stop yourself from blowing away! However, by properly securing your structures, you can at least lower the likelihood that your tent will go a tumbling for the next 20 miles. Trust me, I have seen it happen.

In the event of a dust storm, you want to have dust masks and eye protection handy. The following is a list of items that will really help when the wind picks up and instead of being in a panic about your camp, you can watch everyone else panic and enjoy the site of tents blowing away in the stiff breeze.

Tent stakes will not hold a tent. They will definitely not hold a shade structure because they are too short. Rebar on the other hand comes in lengths up to 20 feet and diameters too large to discuss here.

Ideally you should have rebar stakes that are at least 1/2" to 5/8" and at least 24" to 36" in length. I know it sounds long, but trust me, you want something that can take the wind. The ground is soft and you want to sink a stake deep. Do not buy 3/8". If you can easily bend it with your hands, it is too wimpy for the strong winds you might face. My suggestion is to buy more than you need because you will not be able to find it later.

Rebar can be purchased from Mc Clendon's, Lowes or Home Depot. If you are really smart, go to an industrial supply place like Seattle-based Pacific Industrial that deals in scrap materials. The price will be far less and the rebar will be the same quality. If you are on a tight budget you could always go dumpster diving at a construction site.

Bring along a decent hammer. I would strongly suggest a small sledge, but that is simply to make the hammering easier. You can accomplish the task with a standard framing hammer. Just make sure you have a good hammer.

Another indispensable item for the rebar is rebar caps. These can be found for about 25-50 cents each and they fit any size from 3/8" up. All rebar at Burningman must be capped. Once rebar has been pounded into the ground it develops sharp edges that can easily slice open a leg. If you do not have caps, you can use plastic soda bottles or tennis balls. Or at least wrap duct tape to protect the sharp edges.

Dust Masks
Home supply places sell dust masks used for drywall sanding. Consider these to be the minimum strength you want to buy for the Playa. Drywall dust masks will block most of the fine particles and hold up to being used for an hour or more if needed. Pick up a box of them and bring them with you. That way if a storm comes up you can hand them out to guests in your camp as well.

Safety Goggles
This is a must have item not just for storms, but for watching performance pieces. Ask yourself, just how much did this person practice before they came to the Playa? The cheap goggles that can slip over a set of eyewear are just fine. The idea is that you want something snug enough to cut down on the dust getting in your eyes. Having a few spares is a really great idea.

Decent Nylon Rope
You really want something substantial for tying down your shade structure. My advice is to get the kind of rope that is woven together and not twisted. The twisted stuff starts untwisting and becomes a real mess. 3/8" is a good sturdy diameter to consider. Also plan to purchase 100' more than you think you will need.

When cutting the rope, use a lighter or a torch to melt the ends and two pairs of pliers to hold the rope. Use one to hold the rope and the other to mold the melted mass together.

Rubbermaid Plastic Containers
If it isn't sealed, the dust of the Playa will get to it, especially after a storm. Consider storing all your supplies and clothing in these containers. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Once the lid is snapped in place you can seal around the top with duct tape to keep sensitive things dust free.

Ziplock Bags
Sealable 1 gallon bags are a must have. These can be filled with food, toiletries, costume parts, clothes, anything that fits. It makes it easier to organize and it keeps the dust out. If it isn't in a bag, it will get dusted.

Unscented baby wipes
Unscented baby wipes are a must have after a dust storm or a long day. They allow you to easily clean up dust messes. Buy the refills and cut down on extra plastic.

A few tent tips

Low dome tents hold up pretty well if pitched on the leeward side of a vehicle.

If you have a shade structure, it is worth bringing extra tarps you can use to secure to the ground and the structure to act as a wind dam. This will direct more of the wind up over the tent.

If you have a dome-style tent and the winds get really bad, pack heavy hear inside. If the winds get worse and you are worried about the tent blowing away, pull the support poles so the tent collapses. This will help stop the tent from catching the wind and blowing away.

If the wind gets really bad and you have a support pole style tent, pull the support poles so the tent falls to the ground.

The prevailing winds come from the south and the southwest. However, storms have been known to come out of the north as well. The pilots at the Burningman Airport (Icarus Camp) have declared for take-off and landings that wind is unpredictable and pilots need to be aware.

Other Sites:
Burningman: Survival Guide
Weather Reports from Gerlach, NV

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© Copyright 1998-1999 by Wally Glenn unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.