Update: Summer sporadic-E season on 6M

July 22, 2021 6M map

6M at mid-day on July 22, 2021 – typical of the many days of “no propagation” from the western half of North America. 

Summer 2021 continues to roll along, and now that we’re into August it looks like the 6M sporadic-E season is already winding down. Here in British Columbia, openings to the US East coast have become rare, although daily openings to the Southwest and California are still fairly reliable.  

At the moment, we are emerging from a second “heat bubble” – a term I’d never heard until this summer. I’m keeping an eye on the band right now because immediately after the huge June heat bubble broke (ending two weeks of 40C+ temperatures), during the first couple of days of July the West coast had the strongest 6M openings of the year to Europe and Japan. 

The late-July bubble, on the other hand, was far less pronounced. Still, now that it is dissipating I am hoping for another enhanced opening to “somewhere.” 

Honestly, other than a couple of stellar but isolated openings that didn’t recur over the following days, the 2021 season has been terrible. Draw a line from Manitoba to South Texas and you have the 2021 propagation map. West of the line is nothing; east of the line is 6M activity galore.  

It’s not overstating things to say there has not been a path between the two halves of North America this summer. 

Moments to remember 

The season hasn’t been entirely pig-slop, though. Despite weeks and weeks in June and July when the band was simply dead here, I have managed to advance my DXCC total and FFMA grid count this season. 

In May, I set a goal of advancing my 236 confirmed FFMA grid squares to 300 by the end of the season.  

Using Logbook of the World (LoTW) as my official tracker, I now have 291 FFMA grids confirmed – nine short of the 300-grid target I had set for myself. I have 23 grids not yet confirmed via LoTW – so my “worked” total is 314. 

The highlight of the 2021 season here was definitely the two-hour European opening of July 2. I added 10 new DXCC entities to my 6M total. Here’s a snapshot of the log from that opening: 

The next day saw another opening to Europe, but it was not as deep – I worked Hungary, Norway and Finland. These, combined with a trio of Caribbean stations (ZF, KP4 and HI8) worked in the hour or so after the CQ WPX CW contest in May, brought my DXCC total to 25 on 6M. So it was a pretty good season DX-wise! 

Another season highlight was the Pacific path to Japan. There have been several strong openings to JA from here, but the best and strongest was on July 16. Here’s what made it into my log: 

We in the Pacific Northwest also enjoyed lesser openings to Japan on  

  • July 4 (2038 to 2043z) 
  • July 13 (0118 to 0151z) 
  • August 2 (0000 to 0029z) 

Rovers supreme 

It has been amazing to follow the rover expeditions this season. Special recognition goes to Dave KG5CCI and Wyatt AC0RA for the NI5P/r trip around the US Southwest in June. Nicknamed Project Cashew because these guys are nuts, they made a remarkable loop through many, many (44 in fact) rare and semi-rare grid squares. I didn’t work them in every single location they visited, but I did add quite a few that would otherwise remain unworked possibly for years from here. 

And Petr AG6EE gets huge thanks for his activations this year. Without his trip to Santa Cruz Island, I would not have CM93. We had to make it happen on MSK144 meteor scatter, but got it done!  

I’m looking forward to working Petr next time he makes the arduous trek to CM79 – a tiny sliver of land on the rugged Pacific coast. I’m also eagerly awaiting the unveiling of Petr’s mysterious but proven awesome “fishing pole” yagi antenna design, which he has been using on his portable operations. 

An Achilles hill 

I have a tall ridge due east of my location (See my QTH terrain analysis and a perspective from my back yard). It blocks low-angle signals (anything lower than 6.5 degrees elevation), and that makes it really difficult to work the grids along the US/Canada border and in the far Northeastern states.  

Refraction over the hills, and some higher-angle lobes on the yagi, have resulted in a few QSOs in that direction, but the grid map clearly shows where my station has trouble reaching. 

GridMaster map as of August 3, 2021

Stations a few miles west of me have clear views to the east (the hills are much further from them). When they’re working northern EN, FN and FM grids, often I can’t hear who they are working. All I can do is continue to point at 90 degrees when New England is open here, and hope for the best. 

A quick note about my antenna setup: I use a 6M7JHV yagi on a crankup tower. While I can raise the antenna to about 45 feet, almost all the time I leave it at 30 or 35 feet. That way, I don’t have to worry about wind gusts and cranking down. In practice, I have never observed any difference in 6M signal strength when raising the antenna the extra 10 or 15 feet. 

What’s left? 

We’ll continue to have some activity on 6M through August, but I’m not expecting too much. It would be great to hit my target of 300 FFMA grids this season. I’d also love to work Delaware, to complete 6M Worked All States. Easier said than done from up here in the far Pacific Northwest. 

On days when 6M is not performing, I have been tuning to 12M to see if I can finish Worked All States there.  

For evening fun, I have been tuning my 80M full-sized vertical for 60M and am trying to work all states, though it doesn’t count for ARRL WAS. After a month using the 80M vertical, I discovered that the 160M Inverted-L can be tuned for use on 60M and it does much better than the vertical. I need six more states on both 60M and 12M to complete WAS. With those, and 6M, I’ll have ‘em all from 160M to 6M.  

I had hoped to complete that all-band challenge during July, but that goal is now reset to have them all done by the end of August. 

Mostly, I want DE on 6M. 

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