Moving into the seasonal peak for 10 Meter DX activity, things are looking dismal. Solar flux readings over 100 are becoming less common, and the path to Europe is difficult at best. There is almost no activity on 10 CW other than foreign SSB QRM from CBers. Nearly all 10 Meter activity is in the fone band now, and I (a CW snob) do not spend enough time up there to make an accurate appraisal on conditions to Europe. The major DX contests will bring a lot of activity on the band, and European contacts will be made. From this part of the country it may all be scatter propagation, which is marginal. If there is any direct path activity to Europe at all, the East coast will likely have it to itself. Though northern latitude paths will be closed, we will still have propagation to the east, west and south. During contests, 10 will still be an important multiplier band for Africans, the Pacific, VK/ZL, South America and the Caribbean. We could also get some abbreviated openings to Japan, which is a lower latitude path for us than Europe.
Conditions on 15 have also been seriously effected by the lower flux levels. The band is slow to open to Europe, and the path doesn't stay open as long. Polar openings are especially rare, with limited access to Russia. 10 and 15 are important bands for contesters at the peak of the cycle, producing quantities of DX contacts at 100+ per hour. All-night openings on 20 are also a factor. It will be a few years until we see these conditions again, and contest scores will plummet. Sunspot peaks stir up a lot of interest in DXing, contesting, and in ham radio generally. Many start with a low tribander that looses its effectiveness as the cycle heads down, especially when 20 closes at night. Activity declines as many loose interest in DXing, while others find new challenge on the low bands. These are more difficult, but maybe DXing on the high bands is just too easy.
The low band season is off to an early start this year, because 20 is already closing in the evening. Most CW activity moves to the low end of 40, where conditions are excellent. This band becomes seriously overcrowded. Any semi-rare DX station that shows is quickly spotted, and pileup frequencies are overrun with hoards of lids who usually make copy of the DX station impossible. To work this band with wire antennas, it is important to tune carefully for the DX and be among the first stations calling (before the news is out on packet). Since the SSB portion of 40 is dominated by shortwave broadcasts, many SSB DXers prefer 75 Meters, even though propagation is much more difficult.