Power outages, FM Es and DXing

logo_postFrom what I’ve seen, power outages are largely unwanted by society, especially in today’s digital age.

My street, with overhead power lines dating back to the 1970s and tall trees surrounding them, observes frequent outages due to storms, heavy wind, downed trees and auto accidents.  My local power company thankfully returns power in a reasonable amount of time, but Friday’s 4-hour outage with only light rain outside couldn’t have come at a worse time for me.

It occurred during what seemed to be a huge FM Es opening in an otherwise lackluster FM Es season.

Up until the past 1.5 years, when I got my first smartphone, I was blissfully ignorant of nationwide reception conditions during outages.  When the power was out, so was my access to the web.  But I realized today, reading reports of 107.9 MUF in my region on my phone that I really missed out on what seemed to be great skip.  The Es occurring during the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. hours–times where I am typically not at my radio–didn’t help, either.

Murphy got his way again.

But with the loss of power also came a temporary loss of another nemesis which is as annoying as Murphy: radio frequency interference, or RFI, which I receive on several empty frequencies, most notoriously 104.7, 105.3 and 106.1.

Under normal conditions, the RFI on these frequencies (occasionally on others but at a much weaker strength) makes it impossible to DX meteor scatter or monitor for weak tropo.  I have not been successful in finding the source of it and suspect it is from a neighbor’s home.  Thankfully, the RFI goes away and FM signals are heard when available, be it via Es or Tr, so the RFI is only a minor-to-moderate nuisance.

With my radios hooked up to a computer backup UPS power source during today’s power outage, every frequency, including 104.7, 105.3 and 106.1, were clean and free of RFI.  RDS from 92.3 WERQ Baltimore, 56 miles away, scrolled effortlessly on my radio screens with deadband conditions.  When the power came back, so did the RFI and WERQ’s RDS (which does frequently decode during tropo enhancement) was gone.

FM Es was long gone at that point.

DXing the FM band during a power outage makes me wonder what I’d get if I was able to exhibit the same conditions during a strong tropo opening—maybe my FM tropo distance record of 420 miles would be broken.

However, today is not the first time I DXed during power outages.  On 7/29/07, the power went out due to regional storms during a strong 108 MHz FM Es event into southwest Texas.  For safety purposes, it is always recommended to disconnect antennas and unplug radios during a storm.  Nobody wants damaged equipment (or worse) from a lightning strike. However, the storms were far enough away from me that I decided not to (we just got rain and winds).

I hooked my radios to my backup UPS that day and had superior reception conditions and logged 10 stations in the dark, 7 of which have not been heard since and would’ve been missed had I stopped DXing when Murphy’s Law assumed command.

Overall, I’m glad that the power is back even if it means I have RFI and missed an FM Es opening, but it would be nice to have FM Es openings and power outages on a more DXer-friendly schedule!