The days are now getting longer at an accelerating pace, but it is still winter. The 20 Meter DX GroundHog works a few JA's at sunrise on 80, then gets up to stretch and take a look outside. Peering at the sun and seeing no spots, he knows it will be a few months until nightpath propagation returns to his favorite band. Actually, things aren't that bad. If only the shack were heated.
DX comes through for most of the day on 20, and is about the only band that is currently playing across daypaths. QRN levels are low in the winter. After the band closes to Europe (when it gets dark there), openings remain to points further south. Africans can be found on the band almost anytime. Towards evening, 20 opens southeast to the Antarctic for possible asiatic long path. Asia also opens up for short path work. Has anyone in the USA heard that 15 watt VU4 yet? 20 should be a good band in the ARRL CW contest, but proximity to Europe will also be a factor.
At the peak of the cycle it is hard to believe that there are times when it is easier to work Europe on 80 than on 15, but we are there now. Still, the east, west and southerly paths are often workable on 15. Activity is sparse. At night, everybody moves to the low bands.
Quiet winter nights are great for DXing on all the low bands. Activity is often thin to Europe on 40 because people don't stay up all night, and because the MUF along this path is often too low nowadays. As spring approaches, the MUF problem will diminish. Paths will shift as the night grows shorter. For now, it is good to catch the sunrise peak on the other side of the world. This can be said of all the low bands. On 40, Russians are easily workable. On lower frequencies polar paths are very difficult, but the sunrise sweep across Europe brings out the best of 80 and 160. This occurs after midnight in W5-Land, and an extra hour later on the East Coast. Except in contests, these openings belong to those who stay up late for them. Easterners, however, get lowband openings before our sunset that we can only dream of.
Because of the shortwave broadcast problem on 40 and the difficulty of 160, SSB ops tend to watch 75 Meters very closely. This band has more activity and competition than 80 CW. Activity from the Middle East tends to show predominantly on SSB. On CW, we work primarily Europe and Africa. Been there? Done that? There is always 160, which has special requirements in terms of real estate, antennas and patience.