The 2020 Sporadic E season has come to an end.  While the season concluded with a few surprising things, it was largely a disappointment, on par with recent years.

Sporadic E is a method of signal propagation that, when in effect, allows broadcast signals, especially those in the FM broadcast band of 88.1-107.9 MHz, to be received up to 1500 miles away with clear local reception. It can happen any time of the year, but it is most common during the summer months.


After reading about other DXers recording large portions of the radio band RF during sporadic E via their software-defined radios, I decided to upgrade my equipment shortly before the season started in May so I could do the same.  This upgrade gave me the ability to record an almost 10 MHz “swath” of FM (i.e. 88.1 to roughly 97.3 FM) for over a full day nonstop with the ability to rewind and listen to every single frequency in that range like a DVR, increasing my chances of hearing new logs via Sporadic E.  This method replaced my previous ability using two physical radios to record two individual FM frequencies in hopes of finding skip.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans.  The 2020 Sporadic E season began in May with an abundance of skip in the western half of the United States.  In my 20+ years of DXing (14 of that monitoring daily for FM Es), I had never seen anything like that.  Skip has always favored those living in the Midwest and eastern half of the United States, especially those in the northeast and southeast regions of the country.  Yet this year, almost all of the openings were in areas that 90% of the time would see maybe one or two openings in the entire year.  It was as if it was opposite day all summer.  While I am happy that many DXers who often never see FM Es got a lot of it this year, this didn’t help me at all.

June seemed to be a repeat of May, with most of the openings occurring west of the midway point of the United States.  A few openings brought in signals to my area in mid-June to mid-July, but they were few and far between.  I did not recall seeing any of the usual FM DXers in the Northeast Corridor (NJ, MA, PA, NY, etc.) reporting any substantial skip all year–something that would’ve been unheard of even last summer.  July fell flat and was largely devoid of any skip in this region, again with most of the skip reported online being in the western half of the country.

Here’s a rundown of the year’s performance locally here in Northern Virginia.  Anything with an asterisk (*) next to it was an opening I partially or fully missed, and the reading in the chart is based on what I observed from my unattended recordings.  Multiple openings observed in one day are combined and a grand total in each category is listed below.  MUF = maximum usable frequency, or the highest frequency skip was observed on during the opening.

Date Area Stations Received From MUF Duration (minutes) New logs
5/30/2020 NB 93.5 FM* 5 1
6/15/2020 MS 93.5 FM* 1 1
6/18/2020 AR, OK, TX 94.9 FM* 15 0
6/21/2020 AR, LA, MS, TN 94.5 FM* 3 3
7/5/2020 AL, FL, NB, QC 102.1 FM 14 1
7/14/2020 FL 93.5 FM 1 0

I added the information from the “Duration” column above to the chart below showing the grand totals of how much skip I heard each year in terms of duration:

Yep, the charts above paint 2020 to be an abysmal year.  I only saw 39 minutes total of e-skip during the entire 2020 season.  39 minutes!  Still, this is better than the 33 minutes I received in 2017, but a far cry from the 1471 minutes I received in 2013.  Although some of the Sporadic E openings seen in 2020 lasted longer than 45 minutes each, there were always deep fades and disappearances that resulted in a lower amount of actual skip observed, which skewed the totals lower as I only consider actual skip in the FM band observed, not the beginning and ending timestamps of each opening, to be the determinant of what is counted above.  The longest sustained skip opening observed in 2020 was 15 minutes.  A decade ago, I had sustained marathon FM Es openings that lasted several hours, if not all day.  The last time I experienced such an opening was in 2018 when I was on vacation near New York, NY.  That day, I had top-of-the-band FM Es for several hours in a row.  2020’s openings just didn’t have the power like earlier years.   Even so, I had two more openings in 2020 than I did last year, so that is a meager improvement.

All of the 2020 openings brought in signals from either the Deep South region of the USA, Florida, or the Canadian Maritimes.  I did not receive one signal at all from the Midwest or Upper Midwest at all this year.  This is shocking, given the majority of my openings every summer often come from those areas.  Also, to add insult to injury, due to the coronavirus pandemic, this was the first summer since I graduated high school where I was home all day and could’ve DXed every single FM Es opening that occurred.  Yet, I still only had 39 minutes of skip observed all season–some of it coming in the few times I decided to sleep in on the weekend.

With so much left to desire for 2020, the one strong point I found was that it was more a “quality vs. quantity” type of year, in terms of new stations logged.  I’ve been DXing since 1999 and have logged over 1,940 individual FM radio stations since then.  Since the amount of radio stations in my skip range is more or less constant, it is expected that I would get less and less new radio stations as the years move on.  While that has largely been true, the fact that I somehow managed to log 6 new stations this year, given the aforementioned pitfalls and limitations of the season, is outstanding.  I partially attribute it to my upgraded SDR recording setup, and partially to pure luck.

My attention now turns to the next Sporadic E season, which will happen May-July 2021.  Ignoring the anomaly of 2018 season as depicted in the charts above, I predict the 2021 season to be a mirror of the 2020, 2019, and 2017 seasons.

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