A Summer of E-Skip
Tired of the lousy conditions on the HF bands? Come join the crowd on the "Magic Band." Each summer regardless of where the sunspot cycle is, sporadic E -- or E-skip -- blooms on 6 meters and sometime even on the bands above that. What often appears to be a dead band jumps to life with signals -- some relatively close, only hundreds of miles away -- but some representing worldwide DX on 6 meters.
Skipping Around on 6 Meters
This year is no different. After a slow start, the 6 meter band came into its own in May and has been open in some direction from almost every location in the US almost every day. Sporadic E peaks around the summer solstice, on or around June 21, with a minor peak around the winter solstice, on or around December 21.
Each summer season has unique characteristics that are not predictable, but make the band so fascinating to follow. This year, the emphasis has been on paths to the west and northwest, extending much further east and south than normal. According to VHF expert and conductor of QST's "World Above 50 MHz" column Gene Zimmerman, W3ZZ, there have been several strong openings from Hawaii to the mainland that have included many areas other than the West Coast. Stations in the Mid-Atlantic, the Southeast and the Midwest have had good shots at KH6 in both May and June.
Zimmerman said that summer has brought a nice surprise: "The highlight of this season has been repeated openings to Japan that have mostly bypassed the West Coast and settled in the Southwest, the Southeast (especially Florida) and the Midwest; Japanese stations have even been heard, but not worked, on the East Coast. The latter is a very rare occurrence indeed."
Calling conditions to the Caribbean "outstanding," Zimmerman said that stations in that part of the world have been working the US and Canada, as well as many stations in Europe. "Ted Jimenez, HI3TEJ, in the Dominican Republic has even worked Japan, a tough path even on 10 meters. Inside the US, stations up to 1500 miles away have been easy to get, and there have been lots of openings where the West Coast and the Pacific Northwest worked the East Coast and the Southeast."
2 Meters is Hopping (or Skipping), Too!
Six meter operators should be alert for very short E-skip that indicates a rare increase in the maximum usable frequency (MUF) to a point where 2 meter E-skip -- or very, very rarely 222 MHz E-skip -- is possible. Zimmerman said there have been several 2 meter sporadic E openings and one 222 MHz E-skip opening this summer: "On May 29-30, 2 meter contacts were reported from Maine to Ohio, south to the Mid-Atlantic, to the Northeast, to South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana in the south and Michigan, Western Tennessee and Southern Illinois to the West. The longest was 1477 miles from Maine (David Olean, K1WHS) to Louisiana (William Kemp, K5EMP)."
After small 2 meter E-skip openings on June 3-4 from the Northeast to the Midwest, Zimmerman said the bands blew wide open during the ARRL VHF QSO Party on June 15 with a report of two 222 MHz contacts: John Butrovich, W5UWB (EL17), of Orange Grove, Texas, to Vince Pavkovich, N0VZJ (EN35), of Big Lake, Minnesota; and Paul Trotter, AA4ZZ (EM96), of Charlotte, North Carolina, to David Rush, W5DDR (EM84), McAlister, New Mexico. "This extremely rare event has happened less than half a dozen times in the last 60 years," Zimmerman said. "Two meter E skip was everywhere: Texas; all over the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic; New Mexico to West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee; Colorado to Florida, West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas; Idaho, Oregon and Washington to the Midwest; Wyoming to Illinois, and Nevada to Iowa, North Dakota and Minnesota."
Zimmerman said that conditions are likely to continue to be very good until the middle of July when the E-skip traditionally begins to wind down. "Most areas of the country have not had good conditions to Europe, so that may still be something to look forward to," he said. "Two DXpeditions to rare Caribbean countries are coming up later in June -- to San Andres (HK0) and to St Barts (FJ). If you have an HF/VHF radio that covers 6 meters, put up a dipole or try your 80 meter antenna -- it should work on 6 meters as well -- and have some fun. You never know what you may work next."