03/13/2012 07:57 EDT | Updated 05/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba ice roads closing after short season

Manitoba's northern ice roads are shutting down this week, following a season that was once again shorter than usual because of a warm winter.

All winter roads south of Island Lake closed on Tuesday, while more of the province's ice roads are slated to close on Wednesday, according to provincial highway officials.

This is the third year in a row that the province's winter road season was shortened by unseasonably mild temperatures.

Larry Halayko, a director with the Infrastructure and Transportation Department, said ice roads on the east side of Lake Winnipeg have been hardest hit by the weather.

"The warm start to the winter certainly was a challenge, to get out there and get that frost into the ground and get the ice built up," Halayko told CBC News on Tuesday.

"So we did have some later opening dates for some of the roads and some some load restrictions initially."

Approximately 2,500 kilometres of winter roads are built on frozen lakes and on land every winter. They have usually been open from mid-January until sometime in March.

Season began several weeks late

But this year's winter road season began several weeks later than usual due to above-normal temperatures.

In the past few years, the ice-road season has also ended weeks earlier than normal.

"These temperature extremes, I think, are probably making some of the biggest differences — getting these plus-temperatures in January and Febraury where we haven't had them before," Halayko said.

About two dozen isolated communities in Manitoba rely on trucks to deliver groceries, fuel and construction materials using the winter road network.

Despite this year's shortened season, Halayko said he has heard of just a few loads of supplies that were not delivered on time.

In some parts of the province, crews have compensated for the change in weather by moving the winter roads off lakes, he added.

Earlier this year, Manitoba's northern chiefs called on the provincial and federal governments to speed up the creation of an all-weather road system in their region.

Halayko said on Tuesday that the province's plan to build permanent roads on the east side of Lake Winnipeg will help, but it will only benefit two or three communities.