It is now January - the month where nighttime MUF's are at their lowest. Last year at this time, the operation from Heard Island demonstrated what can be done at the bottom of the solar cycle from a remote location when the need is very great. As I write this, an operation from Laos has been activated and the need is also great. Contact with this Laos expedition may prove more difficult than Heard for DXers with average antenna installations.
For much of the USA, the main path to Heard was via the South Pole. This was not a problem on 20 because it was summer where polar windows are wide open. Contacts on other bands were more challenging because the flux was too low to open 15 and polar paths on lowbands are difficult anyway. This polar problem primarily effected western USA. The path to Laos is via the North Pole for the eastern US, and this is a difficult winter path even on 20 at current flux levels. The band closes at one end of the path just as it is opening at the other. Windows of opportunity will be of short duration, and propagation will favor other parts of the country (west). These openings will occur around sunrise and sunset, depending on your location. Both long path and short path should be watched - but both will favor the west coast. Similar possibilities look good on 40 for those with effective antennas, but chances of a contact are slim to none for those with wires. The west coast will have an easy path on 20 & 40, with opportunities on several other bands we can't even dream about. The last serious operation from Laos was in December '89 at the top of the solar cycle, and paths on both 10 and 15 were open from Texas. A surge in flux numbers would help hold the path open for the east coast on 20 this year. Good Luck in the pileup!
Aside from the Laos path, many continue to enjoy the new activity on 15 and 10. After a strong surge of new solar activity to start the cycle last fall, flux numbers have levelled off for now while the winter season works against us at the higher latitudes. Polar paths on 15 were sparse in the recent season, and this band still has much room for improvement. Seasonally, I feel this band is at its best in late spring. We can look forward to some interesting propagation in months ahead, though I don't see 10 Meters getting really hot until next fall.
For now it is lowband season, and that is where everybody is in the evening. Good conditions on 80 & 160 should be exploited, because this will be our last winter of low solar activity for some time.