January 1997 Forecast -- Flux Range 67 - 78

by Roy, AD5Q - Houston, Texas

It's January at the bottom of the sunspot cycle. Propagation wise, we can expect the low bands will be very good, with more DX activity on 80 & 160 than on 10 & 15. However, the real news this month will be the expedition to Heard Island in the south Indian Ocean. For North America, this country is situated in the most remote corner of the world. From Houston, it is the only country on the DXCC list where signals must traverse Antarctica in order to make a short path contact.

We are used to working DX over the North Pole. At the low end of the solar cycle we have plenty of good 20 Meter propagation from late spring through the summer. Now it is summer in the southern hemisphere, and therefore peak season for propagation across the Antarctic. Still, most Antarctic DX paths from North America are long path openings to points further north, and signals almost always skew around the Antarctic continent without really crossing it. It may seem to us that Antarctica is an obstacle, but Australians work into South America across the South Pole regularly this time of year. From Texas, Heard is an especially exotic DX contact.

The path to Heard appears very different from each corner of the USA. From the northeast coast, the beam heading is southeast - actually more east than south. From Albuquerque the path is due South, and for the West Coast the heading is west of due south. The antipode of Heard is about 100 miles north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Canadian DXers will enjoy an easy east/west path, while a wide area of the northwestern USA (those closest to VE5) will have all sorts of skew path opportunities to contact Heard from whatever direction works at the moment. Antarctica is only an obstacle for the southwest quarter of the US, where there is little chance of making a contact on more than a few bands because polar opportunities on 10, 15, 80 & 160 are so unlikely. There is also another obstruction (the mountain) that reportedly stands between the Heard operating site and much of North America (which part?).

All this means is that there is no easy answer for everybody on how to work Heard. 20 & 40 (and 30) will be the best bands for those with modest setups that need to make that first contact. Those with more easterly or westerly access will have much better opportunities to make contacts on 15 and 80. Most of the US (east of the Rockies) will find the best 20, 30 and 40 Meter openings from late afternoon through the evening. The west coast will find a path in the morning after sunrise, along with the usual assortment of long path Europeans.

Long path opportunities will be best if you live in the northern US or Canada. From W5, the 20 Meter morning long path route across Asia to the south Indian Ocean is a summer path, and is not likely to give us an alternative to the Antarctic route (which should be OK). 40 may be a different story, but the evening short path situation looks good here also. Those with effective lowband capabilities should watch for some interesting grey line opportunities at either their sunrise (W7, VE5,6&7) or sunset (W4, W0). These areas of the US will have short windows of peak propagation that will make lowband contacts with Heard possible.

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