2nd Day of Great Propagation in The Plains. Are You Working New Stations and Grids?

    6:45am Tuesday —
   Band conditions have really been heating up on 2m and higher.  I’m talking from roughly the Mississippi River and WEST.   I don’t think a lot of guys/gals are aware of this.  It’s likely the bands are going to stay good, what with all the hot weather building.   That weather is going to expand over the next several days, and I imagine band openings will become even more widespread. 
   A VHF’ers checklist should read something like this:
   1)  Call CQ in all directions on or near 144.200 whenever near the rigs.  Take 5-10 minutes to make short CQ’s about every 20-40 degrees, once around the compass.  If the band sounds busy, spread out 10-20 kc.  Also, don’t get in the habit of staying glued to 144.200.  There’s usable spectrum from 144.150-160 up to about 144.260, if it’s truly busy.  
   2)  Check between 144.270-144.300 for beacons.  A ham in EN44, Eau Claire WI area reported hearing the DN84 Western South Dakota beacon yesterday morning, for several hours.   Apparently that beacon is on 144.300.   
   3)  If you have higher bands like 222, 432, 902/3 and/or 1296, by all means, have them fired up and ready to go.  You may actually catch some random activity on those bands, in an opening.   I’d put most of my emphasis on 2m, and then ask fellows I find there if they want to run the higher bands.  BUT… surely not a bad idea to at least call a few CQ’s on 222.100 and 432.100. 
   4)  Get in the habit of checking these two websites for potential openings:  
         http://aprs.mountainlake.k12.mn.us/  shows real-time conditions on 2m, based on APRS spots from various places across the USA.   This map has been lit up with red over much of the Plains for the past 36 hours, from what I’ve read and seen.   I know it is this morning.  The APRS map is very handy but don’t let it make decisions for you.  By that I mean, there is no substitute for taking time to call CQ in all directions, to directly verify what the band is like.   When you get in the habit of calling or monitoring nets 52 weeks a year, you start to learn from first-hand experience that the bands have subtle surprises every now and again.  Even when it didn’t “look” like there was enhancement.  Fellows who run daily skeds with distant stations have learned this, too. 

     http://www.dxinfocentre.com/tropo.html  Is known as the Hepburn Tropo Forecasts.  It is one man’s effort to make “weather maps” (so to speak) of what he feels the forecasted tropo conditions will be.  Many will debate the effectiveness of these forecasts.  Just like with weather forecasts.  If you start seeing a trend toward more and brighter colors, chances are that the bands are going to be above average in and around the colors, and quite possibly, you will have a major opening when things get into the yellow/orange category.  Odds are the best conditions will be from the evening into the early/mid morning hours.  Seems like many hams go to sleep early, and the late evening openings are rarely exploited.  The most activity will be in the mornings.   The days where the bands stay hot all day are telling you that there’s a very strong opening in progress, one that could last for several days or more, assuming the weather pattern stays “stuck”.   
    The Hepburn maps update every day in the early afternoon.  As someone who’s followed weather all my life, I like to try and see how the forecast changes from day to day.  If it keeps improving, that’s a good trend.  In the northern states, mid-late summer into fall is the time of year where we’re most likely to have tropo openings that lead to 400-1200 mile contacts on 144 MHz SSB/CW.   That is not an absolute.  There was a great opening from the Midwest to New England and the mid-Atlantic in January 2010.  The Hepburn maps sold that one short, which I wouldn’t have remembered unless I used my own archives — http://kc9bqa.com/?p=1809 

      I’m going to turn on the bold print once again…
     20-30 years ago, there was no internet and there was a ton more activity on the SSB/CW portions of bands like 144, 222 and 432 MHz.  The cure for dead bands is NOT “just listening”, nor is it “waiting for the internet maps to tell you the band is open”.   
You can watch the Hepburn maps, watch the APRS real-time map all you want, but if nobody’s CQ’ing, NOTHING is going to happen. 
     I know by now, from running and promoting nets for 4 years that there are still many more weak-signal V/U stations on than I ever would have guessed.  I mean HUNDREDS.   There’s way more than I ever realized.  And that’s not including the guys who only get on for contests or big band openings.   The problem is that out of those hundreds of stations, I doubt more than 20% are on the air even a half hour a week.   So a lot of times, great openings go to waste.

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