Peel River, Mackenzie River ferries may close before end of October

Due to weather and ice conditions, the Peel River and Mackenzie River ferry crossings may close in two weeks, according to the Department of Infrastructure's regional superintendent for the Beaufort Delta region.

This would be the earliest the ferries have closed in nearly 5 years

The Peel River and Mackenzie River ferry services have been cancelled due to bad ice conditions and high water levels. (William Firth/CBC)

The Peel River and Mackenzie River ferry crossings may close in two weeks — earlier than last year, according to the Department of Infrastructure's regional superintendent for the Beaufort Delta region.

"Due to the colder than normal weather and the ice conditions, it's possible that the Peel River and Mackenzie River ferry crossing — the Abraham Francis and Louis Cardinal — could close sooner than expected," said Merle Carpenter.

This would be the earliest the ferries have closed in nearly five years, if they shut down in a few weeks.

The Peel River ferry crossing, showing considerable ice on Tuesday. (Submitted by Patrick McLaughlin)

The Peel River ferry connects Fort McPherson, N.W.T., to the section of the Dempster Highway that crosses into Yukon. The Mackenzie River ferry connects Inuvik, Tsiigehtchic and Fort McPherson. 

Over the past five years, the Beaufort Delta ferries have shut down during the winter. But last year was the first time since 2013 that the Peel River and Mackenzie River ferry crossings didn't have extended ferry service.

Extended ferry service meant the ferries would continue running until early December, while ice roads were being built.

Last year, the ferry crossings closed during the first week of November — roughly a month earlier than the previous year.

Average dates for ferry closures in late October

The 15-year average closing date is Oct. 25 for the Mackenzie River ferry and Oct. 28 for the Peel River ferry.

The Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T., ferry is seen in the foreground, on the Arctic Red River Channel off of the Mackenzie River. (Submitted by Patrick McLaughlin)

But Carpenter said the department is seeing a difference in water temperatures compared to last year.

According to data the department collected, the water temperature in the Mackenzie River on Monday was 0.5 C. Temperatures in the Mackenzie River didn't drop that low until about Oct. 24 last year. 

The Beaufort Delta region also experienced a colder than normal summer, said Brian Proctor, a meteorologist with Environment Canada.

"We've seen definitely an early start to winter-like conditions," said Proctor. "If we look at September in detail, the mean temperature was 0.8 [C] versus a normal 3.9 [C], so almost three degrees cooler than normal."

Water levels could impact ferry cancellations

Proctor said water temperatures and water levels could affect decisions about when to close ferries.

He said Inuvik is currently experiencing temperatures that are slightly warmer than normal for this time of the year, however, cool air coming off the Beaufort Sea is bringing in cooler weather and wind.

Carpenter said the Department of Infrastructure will update its website and Twitter feed regularly to keep residents up to date on ferry conditions.