Saturday, 17 July 2021

The drama of 144MHz Sporadic E, and how I nearly gave it all up.

Here's the thing about 2m Sporadic E ("Es"), it is very dramatic.

I was sitting here on Sunday 11 July 2021 at 15:59, musing over my previous successes and failures during previous attempts to work 2m Es. I was ready for an opening, but so far it had not happened.

For some time I have been learning how to apply my hardware set-up to try to be prepared for 2m Es openings. For instance, on 8 July I had been ready and I worked  IK8BIZ, IK6DTB, EA2Z, EA5TT, IU4CHE, IZ7UMS, IZ7UMS, IZ8OFO and IK0IXO in an hour long whirlwind of 144MHz Es. Key to this was that I was forewarned by activity on 70MHz.

That was common enough for me not to mention it on this blog at the time.

Just to put some context round this, my time trying for 2m Es from here had a very poor start. On 10 June 2011 I worked EU7AA on 2m, a distance of 2070km, and my only 2m contact of the day. It came as a complete surprise at the time. Of course I knew it was 2m Es because I had knowledge of 2m Es from before we moved here, but I was still in the dark about how to manage that aspect of VHF propagation. Looking back at the log, I had worked two stations in Estonia minutes before on 70MHz. If that was today I would have been watching 2m and be ready to pounce.

At the time I looked at "Make More Miles on VHF" and that site, which was focused on 2m Es, suggested that I might find three or four 2m events in a year, and those were almost entirely located in the Mediterranean or over the Alps. None of them came anywhere near Scotland. This seemed to me like an unpredictable means of propagation now that I had relocated north to GM-land. I decided not to go looking for 2m Es, and indeed I thought very hard about giving up on 144MHz entirely.

After that I did not work any 2m Es for four years, until three Italian stations popped up in June 2015. Those were the only Es contacts that year too. Make More Miles appeared to be correct - 2m Es was something that was welcome but not predictable enough to spend time looking for.

So what I was sitting here mulling over was - what has changed now that I think I can rely on finding multiple openings each year? I pulled out some facts. Up to that point in July 2021, the years so far has produced 55 2m Es contacts into 11 countries and 35 squares, with a best DX being IT9GSF at 2333km. 

2011, one QSO, 

2012 zero, 

2013, zero, 

2014 zero, 

2015 three, 

.... (must work these ones out)

2020 22, 

2021 so far, 55 (make that 77 by the end of the day, see later)

Then, to interrupt my pondering, up popped S58P to start a 90 minute 2m QSO-fest.

144MHz contacts (all over 1050km) at GM4FVM on 11 July 2021

22 QSOs in 8 countries. Dramatic or what?

If I include two tropo QSOs with GM and G, that brings me to 10 countries worked in just over an hour. Unlike 2011 I was prepared for this to happen and I reacted quickly.

DX Maps looked like a bad nosebleed (I have been having a few of those lately), so many stations were in the mix ...

144MHz on a 15 minute slice on DX Maps on 11 July 2021

And just to backtrack, I was interrupted by this opening. I had been musing on how much more common this has become. Basically I was analysing while I was waiting for it to open, when it opened.

Returning to my earlier thinking that day, I had done this map before the opening started.

144MHz Es contacts at GM4FVM 1 January to 10 July 2021

Not a bad map and it excludes the contacts in the first map above.

So has 2m Es got easier since 2011?

I know that I have mused about this before.

The subject came up in an email conversation with Andrew, G0JCC, and I suggested that FT8 is a big factor. He raised several things which affect 2m performance as well. These included better radios and better antennas. Also more information like DXMaps and alert emails. Certainly we did not have those before. He is correct.

Another key factor Andrew reckons are better receivers. He and I both have mast head preamps. Although their influence may be smaller on 2m than on 70cms or 23cms, they still help a lot. Correct again.

Everybody's setup will be different and will be affected by these many of these factors to a greater or lesser degree. In my case things that go with the grain here are using FT8 and more use of the lower VHF bands.

I doubt if FT8 really makes much difference in terms of distance reached, but getting us all listening on and calling on the same frequency has made a huge difference for me. And so has much more activity on 6m and 4m which makes predicting 2m Es so much simpler.

Since speaking to Andrew I have signed up for a 2m Es alert. I did it at who also do my 4m alerts. I was stuck in the past thinking that 2m Es was not for me.

Back in 2014, with no 2m Es worked since 2011, I almost gave up on 2m entirely.

Now in 2021, my analysis of previous successes on 2m Es this year was interrupted by another big 2m Es opening.

And during the opening on 11 July, I was called by Thomas SV8PEX. That would be a new country, and Thomas is 2406km from me, so a contact would also be a personal best on 2m Es. Of course I called him many times. We did not complete a QSO.

210711_161600   144.174 Rx FT8    -20  0.8 1752 GM4FVM SV8PEX JM99
210711_161618   144.174 Tx FT8      0  0.0 1750 SV8PEX GM4FVM -20

Later Thomas emailed me. He is as keen to work me as I am to work him. He confirmed what I had thought, that there was a large tropo duct in the Adriatic Sea, and that must have connected to the Es event. He said that he was hearing me for a long time, but he could not get through the pileup (!!!).

Maybe another duct, at either end, may make this possible eventually. My best 2m Es DX is still 2333km so it is not totally inconceivable. However, earlier in July I had emailed G0JCC with my view that working SV from here was "not practical". Clearly, once again, I don't know what I am talking about. Or maybe all those factors have changed my mind.

Still, SV8PEX heard me, and I heard him. That is good, but not a QSO. Next time, maybe.

I think that 2m Es is easier than it was, thanks to all these factors. However, it is still the ionosphere which calls the shots. However good your equipment, you still need nature to co-operate.

And, of course, I have my superior intellect to help me outwit the Laws of Physics.

Plus my often mentioned modesty and humility.





  1. Excellent, Jim. Good to see your efforts pay off.

    To be fair, This is the best 2m sporadic E year I have experienced since I made my first Es contact in 1978, so we have also had an excellent season.

    But the extended monitoring by ourselves and all the active stations is an excellent tool to enhance the use of the openings.
    Indeed, since I moved back to OZ in 2015, I have focused more on 6 and 4m in the Es seasons, but this year I put more focus on 2m, and it payed off. Working with just an omni-antenna (Big Wheel) is not ideal, I can see that when others near me work stations, and I hear nothing. Room for improvement here ;)
    Vy 73 de Jan, OZ9QV

  2. Jan
    Thank you.
    Yes, a better antenna would be something we all want, but a Big Wheel has an infinite gain over not having an antenna at all. I think that watching more bands brings new learning, whatever antenna we use.
    Please take care.
    73 Jim GM4FVM