In early February we pass mid-winter, and MUF's start back up again. At the peak of the cycle, all-night openings returned to 20 Meters in time for the ARRL CW contest. This year, we are in for an extended low band season. 30 Meters may start to open in the evenings beginning in March. 20 will remain a daypath band until later in the spring. We will continue to enjoy the extra challenge of DXing on lower frequencies.
European contacts are easy this year on both 80 and 160. Weekend nights are the best on 160 - after midnight from Texas. There will be more DX on this band during the ARRL test, but the pileups will be much bigger. The 160 Meter contest was not a good time to chase EU contacts, because the band is so crowded with stateside signals. Still, stations equipped with large arrays for transmit and receive on 160 were able to work EU during their stateside runs.
This month's QST brought us a major innovation in receiving antennas: the EWE. A lot of DX'ers are building these already, and reporting surprising results. This antenna will broaden the horizons of many who lack the real estate needed for full sized beverages, but who already have loud signals on 80 and 160.
The recent Japanese operation from Bhutan illustrates that all is not well. We currently have no DX bands with reliable paths to this part of the world. At the low end of the cycle, the best polar openings into deep Asia occur during late spring and summer. We should hope that rare DX operations that involve longhaul polar openings occur during this seasonal window. Europeans seeking to work certain Pacific expeditions at this time of year would also have difficulty finding an open band. In the case of A51, any operation is welcome. It is an indication that the country is opening to the idea of amateur radio operation by experienced foreigners. The major Bhutan operation many await seems more of a possibility now - with a little more patience.
This month, there is serious operation from the Congo Republic (good ops). This east/west path is no problem from the US. 20 stays open in the evening on the African side of the path, so the window is open all afternoon for us. 20 is also open at night in the southern hemisphere. It is only in our northern latitudes where the band dies in the early evening. We can look forward to better nightpath propagation starting in the spring.