2016 FM E-Skip Year in Review

es-2016bIs it even summer?

That was a question that I asked myself multiple times this past few months, and I’m still asking it as the 2016 Sporadic E-Skip season came to a close in Northern Virginia on July 31.

One can receive FM signals up to 1500 miles away, on average, with local, stereo strength during a Sporadic E, or E-Skip opening.  Although it can happen at any time of the year, it most commonly occurs mid-May to late July, a period of which I consider a ‘skip season.’  This year’s season just ended, and with it came continued disappointment seen locally almost every year since the 2009 season.

The 2016 year seems to be a repeat of the 2015 season, with the few substantial openings observed occurring within a few days of each other late in the season.  2016 continues the local trend where long swaths of otherwise eligible weeks/weekends had no trace of FM Es at all.  2016 was just like 2015 where the first half of the season (May-mid June) saw few openings. This contrasts with the 2014 season, where the last half of the season (June-late July) saw no or little Es, but the beginning of the season had a lot of activity.  This is also the first year since I started to monitor daily FM Es in 2006 where there was no FM Es observed at all in the month of May, a usual fertile month in its latter half.

READ MY PREVIOUS YEARS’ E-SKIP SEASON REVIEWS DATING BACK TO 2011

To add insult to injury, Sporadic E this season to follow the “Monday-Friday, 9-5” workday schedule as noted in this post from the 2012 season, meaning that if you worked regular hours and couldn’t be near a radio like me, you missed out on 95 percent of all Sporadic E openings the entire year.  This was extremely frustrating since, in previous years, I’ve had FM Es on weekends, holidays and evening hours after work.  Es has the capability to happen at any time of the day, but not this year.  Murphy’s Law hit hard.

Occurrence of Es Openings

The chart below represents the start and end dates of activity for the past ten FM Es seasons.  For purposes of this review, I consider the Sporadic E season to be May 15-July 31 annually.  The first line shows the date of the first Sporadic E opening in the calendar year, which can include a rare winter opening after January 1.  The last three lines represents in-season Sporadic E, starting with the first substantial opening (with stable signals and clear IDs), the last substantial in-season opening, and the last ever opening in-season opening.  I feel the distinction between last substantial and last ever in-season opening needs to be made because in recent years, there has usually been a ‘last hurrah’ mega opening right before the end of July followed by a weak, minuscule opening to round out the year.

2016_stat_2

In this area, 2016 seems to be a late bloomer, with an entire month of the otherwise fertile mid-May to mid-June devoid of any FM Es.  This phenomenon was seen nationwide based on internet reports of Sporadic E, with the season picking up for other DXers in July.  Locally, skip didn’t seem to pick up at all until the last half of the year.

I likely received Sporadic E on January 14 this year into the Carribean, much like DXer Lee from nearby Richmond, VA, however I have not included this in the chart above since I was unable to confirm what I had received was true FM Es and not tropo enhancement.

Total Es Openings

The chart below shows the amount of observed FM Es openings for the past ten seasons.  This includes openings received while I was at my radios, and openings that were observed in my absence based on the results of unattended radio recordings.

2016_stat_5

2016_stat_1

Surprisingly, this is one of the few areas where the 2016 season was better than the rough 2015 season.  We saw one more opening than last year and one less opening than the 2012 season.  But don’t let the numbers fool you–only one of those 8 openings was good enough to garner anything worthy to write home about.

Total New Stations Logged

Save for a small amount of sign-ons and sign-offs, there seems to be a ‘fixed’ amount of FM stations that are within 500-1500 miles from my home, and each year I slowly inch closer to that grand total.  Logging less stations now than ten seasons ago is to be expected, even in otherwise great years (i.e. the 2013 season).

2016_stat_7

2016_stat_3

What surprised me in 2016 was that even with a small amount of openings, I still managed to log about half of the amount of new signals I was able to receive last year.  But unlike 2015, all of these new signals received this year were from one opening (7/15/16) — something never before observed locally.  In previous years, I’d get a handful of new signals from one opening, then more from the next, etc.  Although only having one opening that brought in new signals isn’t a good thing, it is remarkable that in an otherwise dismal year, I was able to get *something* new.  If the 7/15/16 opening hadn’t happened, this would’ve been the first year since 2003 where I didn’t receive any new FM Es logs in the warmer months.

New Stations Logged Per Opening

6/13/16: 0**
6/15/16: 0
6/20/16: 0*
6/29/16: 0*
7/12/16: 0*
7/15/16: 13
7/20/16: 0*
7/23/16: 0

* = missed opening
** = partially missed opening

As noted in the section above, all of my new FM logs this year came from one opening, on July 15.  This carries on a similar trend seen in 2015, where all but one new signal logged was in the month of June (with July being a dud).  2014 was almost evenly split with new logs in both June and July (no May), while 2013 had new logs only in May or June (no July).  I haven’t seen a full FM Es season with new logs observed from May, June and July since 2012.  Granted, I seemed to miss a lot of the openings this year, and if I had been at my radios, the results of this section could have been remarkably different.

Location of FM Es openings

6/13/16: KS, NE**
6/14/16: TX
6/20/16: OK*
6/29/16: AL*
7/12/16: AR, FL, IA, KS, LA, MN, MI, MO, MS, NE, OK*
7/15/16: IA, MI, MN, WI
7/20/16: FL*
7/23/16: LA

* = missed opening
** = partially missed opening

This marks the second year in a row where I haven’t received any FM Es from the Canadian Maritimes.  Signals from the Midwest and Upper Midwest seemed to reign king in 2016, displacing otherwise extremely common Texas and Louisiana from coming in more than a handful of times.

Duration of FM Es openings

Totals in the chart below only reflects Es either observed while at my radios, or heard on unattended recordings (which I run on two frequencies 24/7). Totals 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 different parts of one day was, in fact, the same opening which dipped below 88.1 FM for a short period.

2016_stat_6

2016_stat_4

6/13/16: 40 minutes**
6/14/16: 2 minutes
6/20/16: 10 minutes *
6/29/16: 6 minutes*
7/12/16: 191 minutes*
7/15/16: 119 minutes
7/20/16: 20 seconds*
7/23/16: 28 minutes

* = missed opening
** = partially missed opening

Given all of the shortfalls of the 2016 season, this year wasn’t really that worse than 2015 in this area–had I been around a radio to observe the 6/13 and 7/12 openings, there’s a high chance that 2016 could’ve had higher totals than 2015.

This category is a misnomer of an indication of a great skip season.  By looking at the numbers, it would appear that the 2012 season, with 1314 minutes of FM Es observed, was much better than the 2011 season, only which had 872 minutes.  If you look at other categories above, 2012 had 20 less new FM logs received than what I picked up in 2011.  This shows that total running time of observed FM Es for any given year isn’t the be-all-end-all.  However, I include this section in every skip season review since it is interesting to see the exact amount of time FM Es was observed locally.

MUF of FM Es openings

The MUF, or maximum usable frequency, is the highest frequency that Sporadic E is observed on during an Es opening.  Skip signals always start in the lower FM band (below 92 MHz) and, depending on the strength of the opening, will creep up the dial until signals from 107.9 FM can be heard, barring any local signal on that frequency.  Every opening has a different MUF, and the MUF itself often changes during the same opening.  The higher the MUF, the better.  For reporting purposes, the highest MUF observed in each day, regardless of the amount of actual openings per day, is listed below.

6/13/16: 93.5**
6/14/16: 92.9
6/20/16: at least 97.5*
6/29/16: at least 97.5*
7/12/16: at least 100.7*
7/15/16: 107.9
7/20/16: at least 97.5*
7/23/16: 100.7

* = missed opening
** = partially missed opening

The MUFs this year were bad.  Only one observed opening (7/15) had top-of-the-dial reception.  Compare this to the 2015 year, where the majority of the openings had a MUF of at least 105.1.

2017 E-Skip season prediction

Each year, I look at current and long-term skip trends and make a prediction as to what we may see next year.  This is all subjective as it is impossible to know the future.

Last year, I predicted 20 new logs from 15 openings for 2016, but in reality I saw 13 new logs from 8 total openings.  I wasn’t far off in terms of new logs, but I had no idea that 2016 would basically be a repeat of 2015 with the amount of openings.

Although Sporadic E continues its overall downturn seen since 2009, I predict there will be some FM skip in 2017.  I, unfortunately, think 2017 will be another dud, bringing in slightly less skip than what little I had this season.  I predict that I’ll see 5 new FM logs total for 2017 from one opening, much like I had this year with all of my new logs from the same evening.  However, I think that I’ll see 6 total Sporadic E openings, totaling about 385 minutes of observed skip in 2017, based on the overall slump and lack of Es experienced for the past two years.

Not even a decade ago, I had to halt things in my life because of booming Sporadic E coming in on the radio every time I turned it on.  I remember having to postpone doing errands and skipping a college class here and there due to a 107.9 MUF on my dial.  I was extremely busy most nights going over my Es opening recordings.  It’s to the point where I don’t even check my radio for Sporadic E until I see DXers in nearby states reporting skip in their area online.  The lack of activity has taken the fun out of the hobby.

I’m in no way saying that I am quitting the hobby–if anything, the lack of signals increases my interest in DXing, since I remember how it was in years’ past, and I strive to see if the current skip year would meet up to my high expectations.  As you may have seen on this site, I’ve satisfied the DXing ‘bug’ with frequent traveling where I DX in other places, but that still doesn’t replace the satisfaction of a great FM Es season.

Will things ever get better with Sporadic E?  Without knowing the future, I can’t say for sure, but I am more afraid that we’re getting to the point where a year without any FM Es at all is a possibility.  2016 was almost at that point before the 7/15 opening.  Like most DXers, I’ll just have to sit and wait.  Perhaps 2017 will be better.  We’ll see.

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