Other than the wind and its messenger, the ubiquitous playa dust, these are the primary environmental factors every burner faces.
Heat can be a deal-breaker for some people. I’ve known otherwise strong, fit people who simply cannot function in the heat. When descriptions of Burning Man get to the part about possible hundred-degree days, these people often shrug and say never mind. It’s not completely hopeless for these folks though. If someone happens to be a night owl and camps with a setup that includes AC, there is still fun to be had even in a blazing hot year. You could get lucky, like I did in 2011, and have glorious mild weather. Sure, it was pretty breezy the first couple of days, and the temperatures shot up into the 90’s the last couple of days, but really it doesn’t get much better than that.
Of course, that heat is coming from the sun. The altitude makes the sun even more intense, due to thinner air. The sun is ubiquitous on the playa. It is hot, and it burns people who are not properly protected with sunscreen or protective clothing. If you plan to spend much of your time without much clothing on, you should be spraying yourself down with sunscreen and maybe carrying a parasol. A burned butt really hurts.
The arid climate, combined with a dry wind and the sun blazing away in the sky, can literally suck the moisture right out of your body. Desert dryness really takes a toll on burners unless they are very prepared. Dehydration, cracked feet and hands, peeling lips, bloody noses, gritty eyes…, these can be counteracted with plenty of fluids, lots of clean socks, vinegar water, good lotions, saline nasal sprays, saline eye drops, and chapstick. The tip to start hydrating well the day before you get to BRC is good advice too. That’s especially good advice for those of you traveling on airplanes with their dry, recirculated air. And it will help with the altitude adjustment. But don’t be one of that small number of people who get so carried away drinking water that they get sick with electrolyte imbalances and weird brain thingies. If you are peeing constantly, your pee is always colorless, you are not eating because you are too full of water, hey, back off a little. Same for the more common crowd at the other end of the spectrum. If your pee is dark yellow and you aren’t peeing much, you feel chilled or dizzy, etc., you are probably headed for heat exhaustion or dehydration. Back off, sit in the damn shade, eat a banana, and have some water. Or gatorade.
People often overlook the altitude, because, well, it isn’t that high. But it is just high enough to contribute to first day malaise, especially for people who are sensitive to altitude changes and live at sea level. The air is a bit thinner at 4000 feet, making the sun more intense too. The altitude change, the more intense sun, and the dryness can work together to leave unprepared burners feeling tired, or bring on a headache. Fortunately, with care, adjusting to a moderate altitude of 4000 feet takes about a day at most, especially if you take frequent breaks the first day, and, you guessed it, drink plenty of fluids. Who wants to spend the beginning of the great adventure feeling tired and headachy? Take it easy, take shade breaks, and drink your water. Your body will thank you.