Depths of Winter?
"Christmas comes but once a year". Hmmm.
That is the title of a cartoon and is often said. Sadly, nowadays Christmas seems to start mid November and run for a least thirty days. Thirty Christmases with tedious Xmas advertisements on the television and carols and Christmas hymns on the supposedly "classical music" radio station often running in the background at GM4FVM.
I do actually like carols and hymns at Christmas, BUT NOT IN NOVEMBER.
A white Christmas? Scrooge-like GM4FVM is not keen on snow at any time of year. It freezes up the winches on the mast and locks the sections together so that the masts cannot be lowered without swinging the coax about wildly.
And then December started and on the first day of the new month the temperature fell to -7.3C and it started to snow ...
|Wintry scene at GM4FVM on 1 December 2023
I do not associate VHF DX with snow. Years of being hooked on Summer Sporadic E (because of the lack of anything else) have taught me that VHF DX involves sunny days, high pressure and .. well ... Summer.
If anyone had been expecting F2 propagation on 6m they might have said to me that if I just have confidence then DX will surely arrive, snow or no snow.
Here is my 6m activity between 27 November and 1 December
|Contacts on 50MHz at GM4FVM, 27 November to 1 December 2023
Click on the image as usual to enlarge if necessary.
As it states on the screenshot, this is in fact up to 12:04 on 2 December. In the morning of 2 December I have already been calling PZ5RA who, despite being strong with me, cannot hear me. Another new DXCC on the waiting list. No activity on 2 December ... yet.
Not bad for mid Winter - 16 QSOs to 9 countries. Best DX - 9447km. This is just the ones I worked, the list of failed contacts is very long and includes CO, HI, HP, XE and PZ amongst others. There have been openings on each of three days in a week, and in each case the pile-up from Europe was huge. I often listen and on the other period there was a wall of decodes with perhaps seven or eight European stations chasing each DX callsign.
At some stage I reckon that it is not worth joining the throng trying to reach these stations and I pick my moments rather than flogging on trying for the popular ones. Later I just called CQ and had a few interesting replies. With my 200W it is often the case that I can do better appealing to stations who can hear me than calling superstations who will never receive my call. Things began to look like 20m and I am not going to get involved in that rat-race.
Other stations just call CQ continuously, which I regard as a waste of time. To me that is counter-productive when it comes to having contacts. If they want to cut out half the DX, then they are welcome to spoil their chances.
|50MHz on DXMaps on 1 December 2023
This looks like F2-layer propagation to me. It surely cannot be multi-hop Es as I have never seen that outside the peak summer season. It also did not sound like Es and there was no sign of the pronounced narrow propagation bands you get with Es. Signals were not as strong as Es and were quite stable. Also, three days openings during a five day period does not look like the Winter Es we sometimes get - not that I have ever seen transatlantic propagation with Winter Es.
I think this is the "classic" East-West F2 propagation I have been waiting for. The SFI on that DXMaps image is 167, and interestingly there was a geomagnetic storm underway with K=6 at the time. That storm was not creating an aurora here and the Bz component near here (from GM4PMK's magnetometer) was positive. Thus I think that the storm was not as significant in a radio sense as it might have been.
Solarham reported on 2 December that the storm had a positive Bz which would not help "the cause" i.e. bad for aurora and good for everything else. He then pointed out that a coronal hole should be Earth facing and the results might be here by 6 December. More mayhem on the way (possibly).
So I think that was F2 propagation. Still a bit too early to be absolutely definite but it looks that way. The sunspot number is still lower than the books say would promote F2 propagation (SSN 123 smoothed, 105 current, when I last looked) but the evidence is beginning to mount.
Having ruled out Es from my reckoning, there has been a lot of Es too. Repeatedly, over many days, single hop Es when you would not expect it. Not the multi-country "Winter Es" we sometimes get for a day in December or early January, but regular weak Es to one of two stations at a time, over and over again. This could well simply be because there are more stations on FT8 looking for DX and I am hearing them. This out of season Es could have been there all along but was not noticed. I regularly say on this blog that Es can happen any time of year, but I did not have this regular stuff in mind. But here it is. I am not convinced that this is a new form of year-round Es, I think it is just us noticing it.
I feel this is a bit like something Sherlock Holmes might say, but when you have eliminated all the likely options, the unlikely option must be the answer. No, the figures are not high enough for 6m F2 to arrive, but it looks like it must be here. Who decided on those figures, and why are they in the books? The evidence is in my log, and Dear Doctor Watson can testify to that.
What would Sherlock Holmes do next? Probably retire to his fireside, get out his violin and reach for his magic little bottle of liquid refreshment. Such things are not for GM4FVM, probably a cup of tea and some fig rolls in the shack for me. I think my fig rolls do more for my thinking than Holmes's full syringe ever did. I need a clear head for this stuff.
My first Winter proper 6m DX. At last. Not just a day working 1500km through Europe, but a week of activity far and wide.
I just wish it was not so cold.
|View North at GM4FVM on 2 December 2023 (Photo Mrs FVM)
To all other VHF DX-ers my call is this - "Get on and work some while you can".
The next sunspot maximum is a long way off, and this one is clearly here now.