2011 E-Skip season in review

Introduction

es2011logoThe 2011 Sporadic E-Skip season has unofficially ended in Northern Virginia on Sunday, July 31.

Straight on the heels of the abrupt ending of the 2010 Es season, which ended locally on July 3, about a month sooner than in previous years, I was expecting a huge comeback for 2011.

I was disappointed.

Instead, the lack of Es seen at the end of 2010 seemed plague the entire 2011 season, with the majority of openings only getting up to the mid FM band, or to the top but with weak, and sparse, signals.

READ MY OTHER FM Es SEASON REVIEWS BY YEAR: 2012 | 2013

I divided this review into separate categories, each individually graded.  Each category starts out at a grade of ‘C’ for average.  The final verdict for Es season 2011 will be the average of these grades.

This review will be updated if an Es opening occurs after July 31, but it won’t change the grades, as this review is just for the Es season (traditionally early May through late July), not the entire year.

6/18/13 update:  I came across previously lost records from 2007-2009 regarding opening totals.  A few charts have been edited to reflect the true totals.  The grades in each category did NOT change as I feel it is not fair to re-grade seasons after-the-fact, and because the changes have been minimal.

Occurrence of Es Openings

grade-d+
The first observed FM Es this year was on May 5 for a few seconds on unattended recordings, however, the first substantial opening was on June 25, in comparison to June 2 last year, and May 9 in 2007.

This is the first Es year since I started monitoring daily for Es in 2007 where the first significant opening was almost into July.

chart2011
ab11

The charts above show the ‘spread’ of every Es season since 2007 on a timeline representing May 1 to July 31.  Each dot represents one Es opening where its date corresponds between May 1 and July 31.  Portions without dots represents a lack of Es openings.  Years with more openings, such as 2007, show more dots.  For example, in 2011, the first opening this year was seen on May 5.  Although it was an unattended opening, I only logged 1 station (a relog), and the opening only lasted a few seconds on the unattended recording.  Had I considered this the first ‘true’ and substantial opening, it would make 2011 look even better than 2008, which, based on stats in other categories below, is extremely far from the truth.

The first substantial Es opening—second opening observed after May 5—was on June 25. There were brief openings on June 10 and 18, but the fact remains that June 2011 was the worst June month in the past 5 years.  For example, I had 3 substantial openings in June 2009, 4 in 2008, and 3 in 2007, with many smaller openings surrounding them.  In 2011, there was 1 substantial opening in June.

Interestingly enough, I have noticed that the first substantial Es opening has been observed later each year since 2007.  This seems to have no correlation with any other data in the chart, other than the last few days of July almost always being a common last-opening date, and that openings tend to end abruptly at the end of July  following the full-fledged season without a reciprocal ‘ease-in period’ of weak openings as seen at the start of the season.

Also something to consider is that there was no Es observed at all this year before 3:30 p.m.  I have always at least had 3-4 openings per year that occurred in the 10 a.m.-3 p.m. range.  Almost all openings this year were in the 6 p.m.-8 p.m. range.  There were no Es observed this year after 9 p.m. either.  I usually get at least one good opening into the 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. hours per season.

I rate this section a “D+”.  The lack of a full-fledged June Es month, and no morning openings observed at all this year makes this category worse than average.

UPDATE 8/3/11:  I received a brief, 10-minute opening on 8/2/11.  Therefore, the ‘last opening’ for all of 2011, as of now, is 8/2/11.  The chart above will be updated soon.  I will wait a few days just in case another Es opening occurs.  Subsequent openings received after 8/1/11 will not count toward the season grading in this review.

Total Es Openings

grade-c-

aa11
ac2

Openings are counted only once per day above, even if openings happen at different times of the day.  I decided to do this because I have no way of knowing if what appears to be two openings was, in fact, one opening whose MUF dipped below FM for a few hours and (while still active) re-appeared hours later in another geographic area.  There are instances where I’d get two opposite areas at once (i.e. Nova Scotia and Florida), but those are rare.

There have been 14 openings this year, up from 11 in 2009, as seen in the chart above.  There seems to be an overall downward turn in amount of openings in the past 5 years, even with the small upswing this year.  Given this is a trend, I can’t fault the 2011 season much on its own, especially since there, technically, have been more openings this year than last year.  It would be different if I consistently had 22 openings per year, and then got 14 in 2011.  That would’ve resulted in a D- grade.  I still, though, can’t give this category a high grade, since 14 Es openings in an entire season is less-than-stellar.  I think a fair rating that takes the ongoing trend into consideration would be a C-.  The fact remains that the amount of openings this year weren’t anywhere near 2007-2009’s seasons.

UPDATE 8/3/11:  Due to the brief opening on 8/2/11, the exact count of openings, to date, in the 2011 season is 15, +3 up from last year.  However, the chart above only covers the traditional Es season,  Therefore, the chart will not be updated, but this notation will remain here.  This opening, as well as any observed after 8/1/11 does not count toward the season grading in this review.

Total New Stations Logged

grade-f
2011map4

Naturally, the amount of new logs should decrease each year, and the amount of relogs should increase, as there are not many signals that start broadcasting each year.  So, the total amount of loggable Es stations remains roughly unchanged each year, while the DXer inches closer and closer to that total each year as they log new signals.

Based on previous years, I would expect to log at least 50 less signals in 2011, resulting in 87 new stations logged in 2011 for this section to get a “C” average grade (anything higher would’ve bumped the grade up).  Instead, as noted above, I only received 54 stations, a drop of 83 signals from last year.

Therefore, I rate this section an F.  I’m thankful that I logged any new stations this year, but 54 logs is still miniscule for an entire season.

Duration of Es Openings

grade-d-

5/5/11: at least 5 seconds *
6/5/11: 45 minutes
6/10/11: at least 120 minutes *
6/18/11: 90 minutes
6/25/11: 174 minutes
7/1/11: 95 minutes
7/3/11: 90 minutes
7/5/11: 40 minutes
7/11/11: 23 minutes
7/12/11: at least 60 minutes *
7/17/11: 40 minutes
7/19/11: 20 minutes
7/24/11: 45 minutes
7/26/11: 20 minutes
8/2/11: 10 minutes $

It is no secret that the 2011 season had short openings.  Only two openings broke into the threshold of 1.5 hours–the average length of an opening for me.  Because of this, I give this category a D-.  Overall, openings this year didn’t seem to ‘catch on’ and left as soon as they appeared.

* = unattended opening.
$ = opening observed after the traditional end of Es season.  Opening does not factor into season grading in this review.

MUF of Es Openings

grade-c
The highest frequency that Es was observed on during each opening this year, otherwise called the Maximum Usable Frequency, or MUF, are listed below.

5/5/11: at least 90.5 FM *
6/5/11: 102.1 FM
6/10/11: 106.3 FM
6/18/11: 107.1 FM
6/25/11: 97.5 FM
7/1/11: 105.3 FM
7/3/11: 106.5 FM
7/5/11: 100.7 FM
7/11/11: 106.3 FM
7/12/11: at least 101.9 FM*
7/17/11:  101.3 FM
7/19/11: 102.3 FM
7/24/11: 107.1 FM
7/26/11: 94.9 FM
8/2/11: 93.1 FM $

The list above is a little misleading.  For example, on the 7/3 opening, even with the 106.5 MUF, the majority of signals were observed below 97.3.

I rate this section a C.  Even though the MUF didn’t always stay as high as listed above, the fact remains that signals were heard into the mid and upper end of the band.  There were also no openings with a MUF of 92.1 or lower.  Factored in with the amount of openings, this section would probably have a D- rating, but based on MUFs alone, I rate it a C.

* = unattended opening.
$ = opening observed after the traditional end of Es season.  Opening does not factor into season grading in this review.

New Logs Per Es Opening

grade-f
5/5/11: 0 *
6/5/11: 0
6/10/11: 3
6/18/11: 12
6/25/11: 4
7/1/11: 4
7/3/11: 10
7/5/11: 1
7/11/11: 5
7/12/11: 1 *
7/17/11: 2
7/19/11: 3
7/24/11: 9
7/26/11: 0
8/2/11: 0 $

The most amount of new logs per opening was 12, observed on June 18.  The average for the year was 4 logs per opening.

Compare that to just two openings from last year where more stations were logged than in the entire 2011 season combined:

6/2/10: 34 new logs
6/24/10: 25 new logs

There are other various openings I’ve DXed with more logs than this entire season combined, also. For that fact alone, I rate this section an F.  The 2011 season was brutal and disappointing with the amount of new logs.

* = unattended opening.
$ = opening observed after the traditional end of Es season.  Opening does not factor into season grading in this review.

Location of Es Openings

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Below is a list of the states received in every Es opening this season.

5/5/11: FL *
6/5/11: MS, LA
6/10/11: KS, MI, TX
6/18/11: ME, NS, QC
6/25/11: MO, ME, ON
7/1/11: KS, NE, MO
7/3/11: AL, FL, LA, MS
7/5/11: TX
7/11/11: LA, MS, TX
7/12/11: MO, TX *
7/17/11: NB, NS
7/19/11: AL, FL
7/24/11: AL, LA, MS, TX
7/26/11: OK, IA
8/2/11: SD $

Most of this year’s openings were into Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.  None of this year’s openings were into South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin or Manitoba—a very common Es path here each year.  However, 2 of this year’s openings were into the Canadian Maritimes, an area that is usually received once per year.  I feel the increase in Canadian signals does not cancel out the lack of upper Midwest Es, since I usually receive a good chunk of logs from the upper Midwest each year.  I didn’t log that many new Canadian signals this year either–only 13 signals.

Although openings into Mexico, Bahamas and Bermuda were not seen locally this year, they have no factor into my grade, since I have only received their signals a few times.  It is not a common Es path.

I grade this section a D+.  There has been little variety in this year’s Es openings.  It seemed like every opening was into TX/LA/MS/AL/FL, or into the Canadian Maritimes, often bringing in a dial-full of relogs.  One opening into the upper Midwest with more than 10 new logs would’ve changed the grade to a C.

UPDATE 8/3/11:  I finally received an opening, although brief, into the upper Midwest on 8/2/11.  Due to this occuring after the traditional ending of the season, this will not factor into the season grading in this review.

* = unattended opening.
$ = opening observed after the traditional end of Es season.  Opening does not factor into season grading in this review.

Subjective Feeling of Season

grade-c-
This category ignores statistics and focuses on my gut feeling and observances of the season.  It also takes into consideration factors that the above categories do not see.

I feel like I was ‘shortchanged’ this year with Es in comparison to regional DXers.  Like usual, DXers in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Delaware, Pennsylvania and other states 95-400 miles away reported substantially more Es openings than I did.  Many DXers less than 100 miles away had Es up to 108 MHz when I had no Es at all locally.  This differs from previous years because 80% of the time, I’d at least get <89.1 MHz Es, or one solitary fade-up, when the regional DXers enjoyed top-of-the-band reception for hours.  I usually used reports from MA/PA/NJ DXers to gauge when Es would come in locally–usually after an hour of full-band Es to the northeast, I’d start to get Es.  This year, that *rarely* happened. The fact that Es was not observed in over 80% of the month of June—a usually very capable Es month–also leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  This mirrors the abrupt July 3 ending of the 2010 season.

I recall always monitoring the FM dials (TV, too, before the 2009 DTV transition) for Es in previous years.  I always remember having to put off doing things (running errands, etc.) because of a colossal Es opening that was already in, or about to hit, the FM band.  This year, the lack of Es made it seem like it was the off-season.  If I didn’t look outside at a thermometer to know we were in a heat wave with 115-degree temperatures, based on the FM band, I’d guess it was December.  I went on about my day many times without even thinking of checking for Es–a rarity for me.  A later review of DX reports online for the day, almost always, would prove that my forgetfulness that I was in the Es season didn’t matter, since there was no Es being reported at all many days this season.

But what really intrigued me was an apparent ‘quality vs. quantity’ theme that has dominated the 2011 season.  Although I haven’t had any (seemingly) normal openings this year with 25-45 new logs being received, I did get 7 HD Radio decodes from relogs that (in much stronger Es openings in years’ past) have never been decoded—some right over strong local signals that also run HD.  Many of these short-lived and weak openings this year also provided for many RDS decodes—many from relogs that, like with HD, never decoded in stronger openings from 2010, 2009, etc.  I logged my second translator, at 250 watts, via Es on July 24 during a 45-minute opening deep into Mississippi, a state that usually gets overshadowed with regional LA, TX, AL and FL signals when openings are in the region.

Because of this, I am giving the 2011 season a rating of C-.  I feel this might be a generous grade to give in this section, but there were enough interesting moments in this season to outweigh the general disappointment seen in other categories above.

Verdict

grade-d
Averaging all of the above grades above on a 11-point scale resulted in a 2.5, which is between a D (2) and D+ (3).  I decided to round down due to the overall disappointment of 2011, making the final grade a D.  Had I received at least one opening that lasted over an hour with 20 or more new logs (and a few new HD and RDS decodes thrown in for a good measure), I’d possibly change the grade to a C- or even a C.  I’ve not seen a season in my 12 years of DXing (5 of them actively monitoring Es each day) where the sheer majority of openings, regardless of strength or duration, brought in 5 or less new logs.

Es Season 2012 Prediction

Es season 2012 will hopefully be full of marathon openings that will rival the infamous July 6, 2004 opening, where I personally had a MUF of TV 10, or 200 MHz.  Unfortunately, I think that was an once-in-a-lifetime event.

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