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Opening of Dettah ice road still at least a week out: N.W.T. gov't

A barrier prevents cars from driving through the Yellowknife entrance to the closed Dettah ice road on Jan. 12. (Sarah Krymalowski/CBC - image credit)
A barrier prevents cars from driving through the Yellowknife entrance to the closed Dettah ice road on Jan. 12. (Sarah Krymalowski/CBC - image credit)

It will likely be at least a week until the Dettah ice road opens, according to the Northwest Territories Department of Infrastructure.

The late opening of the road comes down to the combination of a very warm December in the region and a very cold January so far, said department spokesperson Darren Campbell.

"We need it to be cold, but not so cold that we can't get staff and equipment out on the ice to do what we need to do," Campbell said.

In temperatures below -35 C, the instruments survey crews use to measure the thickness of the ice don't work properly, he said.

Last time a survey crew went out to test the thickness of the ice on Jan. 2, the ice was only 18 to 25 cm thick — well below the minimum of 33 to 34 cm that is needed to safely begin building the ice road, he said.

Weather permitting, the department is hoping to have staff out testing the ice thickness early next week, he said.

Once they have confirmed that it is safe to begin snow clearing for the Dettah ice road, the work itself should be completed in five to seven days, he added.

Regardless of when the ice road opens, its already a certainty that this year will break the record for the latest recorded opening day for the Dettah ice road.

The previous record — Jan. 11 — occurred three times. First in 2000, then in 2019 and 2020.

The Dettah ice road isn't the only winter road whose opening will be delayed this year.

The Aklavik-to-Inuvik ice road opened Friday. The average opening day for the past 20 years has been Dec. 17.

According to the N.W.T. Department of Infrastructure, the main reasons for the late opening were "unfavourable weather conditions" including heavy snow and overflow — when water from a frozen lake seeps up through cracks in the ice and forms a layer of wet slush on top of the ice.

The Aklavik-to-Inuvik ice road has opened much later, however. Its latest opening date occurred on Jan. 26, 1998.