2013 E-skip season in review

Introduction

es2013revThe 2013 Sporadic E-Skip season ended on July 31 in Northern Virginia.  For the first time in 4 years, Es seemed to improve in most graded categories, albeit slightly.  2009 marked the first year since I monitored daily for Es in 2006 where FM Es took a nosedive, with each year getting progressively worse to the point where last year I predicted almost no FM Es at all for the 2013 season.  Thankfully, I was proven wrong and am actually delighted to experience a slightly below-average sporadic E season (based on Es seasons 2006-2009).

The 2013 season started right on time on May 2.  Although May is typically a quiet month locally with one or two full-fledged, sustained openings later in the month, I received a healthy dose of Es 10 times throughout the month, the majority being weak and short openings, but Es nonetheless.  Even with most openings being weak, short and overall only bringing in relogs, the fact remains May 2013 has seen more FM Es than previous years.  Es took a harsh nosedive in June, with openings only observed three times in the otherwise fertile skip month.  July FM Es returned with a few strong, sustained openings throughout the month, although with a slight lull toward the month’s end.

READ MY OTHER FM Es SEASON REVIEWS BY YEAR: 2011 | 2012

I divided this review into separate categories, each individually graded on an eleven-point scale. A grade of ‘C’ is average. A category performing better than the previous year will automatically at least get a ‘C’ grade or higher, while a category performing the same or worse than last year will get a C or lower. There is, however, a little leeway in grading.  An abysmally-performing category may get a low grade even if better than the previous year. The final verdict for the 2013 Es season will be an average of these grades.

This review considers the Es season to be between May 1 and July 31. The review will be updated if an Es opening occurs after July 31, but it will not factor in the grading.

Occurrence of Es Openings

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This category focuses solely on the occurence of FM Es openings, without focus on strength, MUF, amount of new logs or other areas other criterion below takes into consideration.

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The charts above show the calendar ‘spread’ of every Es season since 2007.  The chart is divided in three sections, one for each month.  Every dot represents one day that an FM Es opening was observed.  For example, if FM Es was observed on June 5, a dot will be seen in the ‘early’ section of the month, close to May’s section while an opening on June 20 will be on the grid closer to July’s section.

May and July were very productive months in terms of days where FM Es was observed.  June, however, was very disappointing, with only three days where FM Es was seen.  Although three openings in June would be a horrible Es year on average, the fact that May and July had lots of openings averages it out to a grade of ‘C.’

However, an interesting trend I’ve been noticing since 2010 has somewhat continued this year, where every aforementioned year since 2010 has seen an unusual prolonged lull.  In 2010, FM Es ended early on July 3, leaving the last typical month of the season devoid of any FM openings.  In 2011, the season didn’t really get off to a start until June 25, leaving the first two normal months devoid of FM openings except for a 5-second opening on May 5.  In 2012, there was an unprecedented 35-day lull between June 16 and July 24.  This year, a similar lull (with a few openings to break the monotony) was observed during most of June.  I wonder what combination of a lull I’ll see in 2014.  Will the last half of every typical Es month be a lull?

Total Es Openings

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This category focuses on the total amount of FM Es openings seen in 2013, ignoring other criterion like duration, logs or MUF.

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The 2013 FM Es season blew every other season out of the water since I started monitoring daily for Es in 2006 in regard to sheer amount of openings.  This year, I’ve observed 25 FM Es openings, up 16 from the dismal 2012 season and 2 more than my record of 23 in 2008.  In effect, I’ve seen more than twice the amount of FM Es openings from last year’s season.  This is phenomenal.  Although most of these openings were lackluster (which will factor in other portions of this review), the fact remains that 2013 had more openings than any other year in recent memory.

Another common Sporadic E phenomenon seen again this year is the lack of FM Es in my Northern Virginia location while DXers in the 80-150 mile range had top-of-the-band FM Es to 107.9 (often higher).  A perfect example of this peculiar problem was on July 26.  Although I received at least 130 minutes of skip earlier in the day, several DXers in NJ and PA had a sustained 107.9 MUF for at least 1.5 hours into Florida, complete with RDS and HD Radio decodes in the evening, based on TV/FM Skip Log reports.  Meanwhile, I had no trace of FM Es at all.  Given Florida is in the 650-1000 mile range, so I *should have* received a few weak signals if an area so close to me had a sustained 107.9 MUF.

This category came as a complete surprise to me.  It seems like this category has nowhere to go but down in 2014 due to the record total, but who knows!

New Stations Logged

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This category looks at the total of new logs for the entire season, ignoring individual openings.  Years with fewer new logs than the previous year get a grade of C or lower.

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I’ll admit that grading an FM Es season based on amount of new logs is not necessarily a logical method.  There is a fixed (more or less) amount of FM signals available to log in my Es range every year. Over time, it is expected to log less new stations every year.  However, I feel that it is important to note the amount of new logs per year, if not for the novelty factor.  The information also is interesting to note when comparing to other review categories, such as amount of openings and opening duration.

I had hoped for more new logs in 2013, but several respectable openings brought in only relogs.  I guess I’m just at the point in my DXing ‘career’ where the majority of signals received are relogs.  With that said, I’m pleased to see that I still managed to log about the same amount of stations this year when compared to last.  Hopefully the amount of new logs will remain the same for the 2014 season.

New Logs per Es Opening

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The amount of new logs per opening is graded in this section of my review.

5/2/13: 0 new logs
5/4/13: 0 new logs **
5/10/13: 0 new logs
5/11/13: 0 new logs **
5/16/13: 0 new logs
5/17/13: 2 new logs
5/19/13: 0 new logs
5/26/13: 2 new logs **
5/27/13: 1 new log
5/29/13: 3 new logs
6/1/13: 4 new logs
6/7/13: 0 new logs
6/23/13: 0 new logs **
7/3/13: 3 new logs
7/4/13: 0 new logs
7/5/13: 14 new logs
7/6/13: 0 new logs *
7/7/13: 0 new logs
7/8/13: 2 new logs **
7/11/13: 1 new log **
7/12/13: 0 new logs **
7/14/13: 0 new logs **
7/15/13: 1 new log *
7/20/13: 0 new logs
7/26/13: 6 new logs **

* = missed opening
** = partially missed opening

Even with the record amount of Es openings, new logs were few and far between this year.  While I would hear other DXers on the TV/FM Skip Log and elsewhere receive 30+ more new stations per opening, while I often got 0-5 new stations.  Only 1 opening (July 5) yielded more than 10 new logs, which is unsatisfactory but not really a surprise.  Even in 2012, which as of now seems to be the ‘rock bottom’ of Es seasons in terms of all-around performance, there was one day where I got 20 new logs (7/24/12).

Another trend I disliked about this year was that FM Es openings tended to start earlier than in previous years.  I typically checked my radios at 10:30 a.m. and then check again around noon most days.  If I heard of FM Es reports in my region, I’d stick around during both times and (on a good day) DX the entire opening.  However, I’ve seen the openings start in the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. time frame–a time where I’m typically unavailable to DX.  Of course, most of the openings that started in these hours were out of FM or had a free-falling MUF by the time I was available to DX.

Thankfully, evening Es openings were common in 2013, with the majority of all openings this year being after 5 p.m., when I’m the most available to DX.  This is largely unlike the 2012 season, where FM Es seemed to fit the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule–a time in which I was unable to DX at all last year.

I gave this section a “D+” due to the lack of new logs when compared to the amount of openings.  A season with a lot of FM openings should garner more new logs per opening, even if it was 1 new log instead of 0.

Duration of Es Openings

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This category considers the length of Es openings.  When an opening is missed or partially missed, the duration of Es observed on unattended recordings are used with an asterisk, as described below.  Totals in the chart below only reflects Es either DXed or seen on unattended recordings.  Times from multiple openings spanning different times of the day are combined for a grand total in this category.  This is because I’m not sure if what appeared to be two openings in one day was, in fact, the same opening which dipped below 88.1 FM for a while.

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5/2/13: 30 seconds
5/4/13: 23 minutes **
5/10/13: 88 minutes
5/11/13: 199 minutes **
5/16/13: 1 minute, 30 seconds
5/17/13: 28 minutes
5/19/13: 31 minutes
5/26/13: at least 118 minutes *
5/27/13: 53 seconds
5/29/13: 72 minutes
6/1/13: 186 minutes
6/7/13: 8 minutes
6/23/13: at least 119 minutes **
7/3/13: 45 minutes
7/4/13: 2 minutes
7/5/13: 146 minutes
7/6/13: at least 4 minutes *
7/7/13: 2 minutes
7/8/13: 84 minutes
7/11/13: at least 36 minutes **
7/12/13: at least 9 minutes **
7/14/13: at least 41 minutes **
7/15/13: at least 30 minutes *
7/20/13: 3 minutes, 15 seconds
7/26/13: at least 130 minutes **

* = missed opening
** = partially missed opening

There’s not much to say in this category other than it seemed like FM Es maxed out at 130 minutes per opening, unlike as soon as last year, where a 220-minute opening was observed one day.

I decided to give this category a ‘C-‘ simply because there has been more minutes of FM Es noted than in 2012.  Hopefully the increasing minute trend will continue a fourth year!

MUF of Es Openings

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This category reviews the Maximum Usable Frequency (MUF), or the highest frequency where Es is observed, for each Es opening.

5/2/13: 92.9 FM
5/4/13: 93.7 FM **
5/10/13: 100.5 FM
5/11/13: 99.3 FM **
5/16/13: 92.9 FM
5/17/13: 95.3 FM
5/19/13: 92.9 FM
5/26/13: at least 97.5 FM *
5/27/13: 92.9 FM
5/29/13: 106.3 FM
6/1/13: 107.5 FM
6/7/13: 90.7 FM
6/23/13: at least 106.9 FM **
7/3/13: 105.3 FM
7/4/13: 89.5 FM
7/5/13: 105.7 FM
7/6/13: at least 88.9 FM *
7/7/13: 92.9 FM
7/8/13: at least 105.7 FM **
7/11/13: at least 101.3 FM **
7/12/13: at least 93.7 FM **
7/14/13: at least 104.5 FM **
7/15/13: at least 91.7 FM *
7/20/13: 92.9 FM
7/26/13: at least 101.7 FM **

* = missed opening
** = partially missed opening

Even with a lot of respectable-length Sporadic E openings in the 2013 season, an unusual aspect of almost every opening this season was a ‘yo-yo’ MUF.  In previous years, the MUF usually hit 107.9 and stayed there for hours with no sign of dropping.  In the 2013 season, the MUF would be at 107.1 one minute, 90.5 the next, then 98.1 five minutes later, and so on.  This made identifying signals very difficult because the signals didn’t stay in long enough to hear station identification at the end of a song.  Feeling defeated, I’d move to a lower frequency to find Es only to realize minutes later that FM Es was back to the top of the band, and the cycle would repeat again.

Another anomaly I’ve noticed this year was that several openings, especially the weaker and shorter May openings, had signals between 92.1 and 92.9 FM coming in, however very rarely did I find signals below 92.1 coming in.  In previous years, the band below 92.1 was typically abuzz with strong signals before I saw anything above 92.1, however this year it proved to be the opposite.

Although only 1 opening had an over 107.1 MUF this year, I decided to give this category a ‘C’ because of the aforementioned record amount of openings.  There were many more MUFs this year than last.

Location of Es Openings

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In this category, I look at the variety of locations where FM Es was received from during the season.  The variety in location of openings determines this category’s grade.

5/2/13: NE
5/4/13: MN, ND
5/10/13: KS, MN, NE, ND
5/11/13: AR, IL, KS, NE, MO, MN, OK, TX
5/16/13: TX
5/17/13: KS, MO
5/19/13: KS, NE
5/26/13: at least AL, AR, Bahamas, Cuba, IL, FL, KS, MO
5/27/13: LA, OK
5/29/13: KS, NE, SD
6/1/13: FL, LA, MN, MO, MS, OK, SD, TX
6/7/13: FL
6/23/13: TX, OK, AR, LA
7/3/13: AL, FL, GA
7/4/13: unknown (French Canada area)
7/5/13: AR, IA, IL, KS, MN, MO, NE, OK, TX
7/6/13: unknown
7/7/13: MN
7/8/13: AL, LA, TX
7/11/13: LA, OK, TX
7/12/13: LA, MS
7/14/13: LA, TX
7/15/13: Bahamas
7/20/13: unknown
7/26/13: IL, MI, MN, ND, SD

The areas heard in Virginia via FM Es this year were average.  One large area missing was the Canadian Maritimes.  I typically get 2-3 openings a year into Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and surrounding provinces.  Although I did hear a few French FM signals likely from Canada on July 4, there has not been one confirmed opening into that region at all this year.  In 2012 with only 9 FM openings, I had signals from the area and south-central Canada on several days.  Florida was another largely-absent state this season.  The Sunshine State was only received a small handful of times this year, just like the 2012 season.  In years past, Florida (especially Miami-area signals) were received so much that my listening of their signals could have make a dent in their local ratings.

As usual, the TX/LA/MS area, as well as the upper midwest and midwest were common areas received this year.  However, I was pleased to find several openings into Illinois and a strong opening into Georgia–two states often not heard in Northern Virginia due to short distances.

Due to the average ‘mixed bag’ of locations heard this year, I decided to grade this section a ‘C-‘.

Subjective Feeling of Es Season

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This category ignores statistics and focuses on my gut feeling and observances of the season not considered in previous categories.

As I mentioned before, I had very low expectations for the 2013 E-Skip season.  To have a record amount of FM Es openings in 7 years, as well as more new logs than the previous year (even if only by 1) all in one season is a delight.  But Sporadic E has a long ways to go before it matches the levels of the 2006-2008 seasons–years where there were all-day and all-evening openings to the point where I couldn’t run errands or peel myself away from the radio since the band was always wide open.  The fact remains that 2013 has been an overall weak season, with many openings that did not have any ‘umph’ in them at all.  MUFs, for the most part, were not sustained and would go above 104.1 FM one minute, then be down to 90.1 the next, making signal identification often impossible.

In last year’s FM Es review, I questioned the amount of time I spent in the hobby due to lack of FM Es.  After seeing the aforementioned improvements, I have high hopes that DXers nationwide will have a renewed interest in the hobby with the return of the strong openings locally seen in the 2006-2008 seasons.  I’ve seen several FM DXers mention similar season lows in the 2002-03 years and I’ve had spectacular seasons 2006-2008, so I’m hoping the ‘up and down’ of annual FM Es season performance is just a typical trend that has been going on since the hobby started and it isn’t permanent.

Verdict

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Averaging all of the grades above on a 11-point scale resulted in a 4.8, or between a C- and a C.  I decided to round up to a ‘C’ because there have been improvements this year.

Es Season 2014 Prediction

Every year when I write an Es season review, I make predictions as to what I feel will happen during next year’s Es season based on local trends.  With the small improvements seen in most categories this year, I believe the following will be observed in 2014:

20 new logs.
17 total FM Es openings.

We’ll see if I’m being safe with my assumption or if (like last year) I was pleasantly proven wrong with my prediction.  For all we know, 2013 may have been a fluke and 2014 could be even worse than 2012.  I just hope that 2014 will at least be as good as this year was.  Wow, I can’t believe I said a current Es year has been good!

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