The fall contests have given us an opportunity so get a reading on DX conditions in the face of rapidly declining solar activity. Such a difference a year makes! Earlier in the fall there were still days when europeans were easily workable on 10. As we approach winter, northern latitude paths on the high bands will be increasingly difficult. At the top of the cycle, this meant we couldn't work the central-asiatic russians on 10. This winter, openings to anywhere in Europe or Asia will be few and marginal. In the CQWW CW contest, most of the US failed to get an opening to Europe (including New England!). We should not expect improvement in 10 Meter conditions next spring, and fall 1994 does not hold any promise either. DX activity on 10 through the recent sunspot peak was spectacular, and its history. Wait about 4 years.
Activity has moved down to 15, but conditions on this band will eventually succumb to declining solar fluxes. For now, the band will still open regularly to Europe in the morning, but through the winter the northernmost paths will be closed. Signals from Russia and Scandinavia will usually not be heard. Solar flux levels at the bottom of the cycle are in the mid-60's, so further deterioration over the next two years is inevitable.
Shortly after dark, all activity moves to the low bands. 40 Meters is in great shape, with DX openings to every corner of the world. A lot depends on antennas, and horizons are substantially broadened for those with the right hardware. During the CQWW CW, several stations on the east coast made over 1000 contacts on 40, and well equipped stations further west did well into Japan. Nearly 100% of my own experience on 40 is with delta loops, which aren't very effective in the face of serious competition. On 80 Meters, a vertically polarized delta loop is very competitive in pileups (but not very good on receiving.)
With DX activity primarily on 15 during the day and on 40 at night, 20 is becoming difficult to read. In the morning we often get a grey line opening to Europe. On some days this opening is excellent and lasts half the morning. Toward noon the band opens up to the northwest. We are still getting some long path to the southwest around sunrise, but only because it is late spring in the southern hemisphere (where nighttime MUFs are seasonally high enough to keep the band open.) In the afternoon and early evening look for openings to Africa, and across South America to the Antarctic and Asia via long path. These southerly signals will be identifiable by their echo, but the loud ones will be South Americans.