Sundance + sunny weather could equal mega-crowds in Park City |

Sundance + sunny weather could equal mega-crowds in Park City


Mallory Mahoney displays a sign on Thursday while filming a commercial along Main Street under sunny skies. The forecast calls for more nice weather during the Sundance Film Festival. Christopher Reeves/Park Record

The weather forecast for the Sundance Film Festival calls for, well, sun.

And lots of it.

The festival opened under sunny skies on Thursday and forecasters anticipate there will not be a change in the weather pattern in the coming week, giving Sundance a dramatic backdrop of blue skies and snowy mountains.

The nice weather also could draw giant crowds to Park City for Sundance, particularly during what is traditionally a jammed opening weekend. The Visa U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix, an important pre-Olympic event, continues on Saturday, adding to the hubbub in Park City. Monday, meanwhile, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, making it a three-day weekend for some.

The crowds will not need to trudge through Park City like they have during some notorious snowstorms that have hit during the festival in the past.

"It will be sunny. It won’t be too cold," said Brian McInerney, a hydrologist in the Salt Lake City office of the National Weather Service who lives in the Snyderville Basin.

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Forecasters say the daytime temperatures in Park City could be in the range of the 30s to low 40s during Sundance, pleasant compared to the frigid weather that sometimes grips Park City in January. The forecast does not call for snow, either, which will be welcomed by festival organizers and City Hall officials. A bad snowstorm during the festival could have widespread impacts on the bus system, traffic and the pedestrian routes.

A high-pressure ridge set up over the region in December, McInerney said, calling the system the "dominant weather feature" since then. A high-pressure ridge forces storms to go around. McInerney said forecast models show no storms through the end of January.

Brett Benson, a 1988 Park City High School graduate who is the chief meteorologist at Fox 13 in Salt Lake City, agreed, indicating that the high-pressure ridge is pushing storms into Canada. He said the forecast models predict the ridge will be intact through at least Jan. 28.

"It will be sunny and beautiful in Park City," Benson said.

The Salt Lake Valley, meanwhile, will suffer through an atmospheric condition known as an inversion during Sundance. When an inversion occurs, cold air, which is heavier than warm air, is trapped at a lower elevation.

That means that the temperatures in the Salt Lake Valley during an inversion are typically colder than those in the higher altitude Park City. An inversion also diminishes air quality in the Salt Lake Valley. Park City typically enjoys clear skies and the warmer temperatures during an inversion in the Salt Lake Valley.

An inversion in the Salt Lake Valley sometimes leads to larger crowds than would be expected in Park City as people escape the cold temperatures and diminished air quality. Sundance is a draw for Salt Lake Valley crowds anyway as people descend on Park City for the movies, the entertainment and celebrity gawking.

"There will be a lot of people running to the hills" to spend a day out of the inversion, Benson said.

McInerney agrees, saying Park City will be "the place to go."

"If you want to get out of the pollution, that’s where I’d go," he said.