Three-hundred and sixty-four days a year, the North American Aerospace Defense Command — or NORAD — is the U.S.-Canadian military unit that monitors North American airspace for enemy threats. But one day a year, NORAD turns its watch onto one very popular air traveler.
Part of the NORAD mission is to keep the skies safe — safe for pilots… safe for passengers… and safe for sleighs pulled by flying reindeer.
Watching Santa Claus each Christmas Eve is an annual mission NORAD takes very seriously. They’ve been at it for sixty years.
“We will monitor and track Santa to make sure that he is safe and secure,” NORAD’s Lt. Joe Nawrocki says from Colorado Springs. The tone of his voice is so sober you feel like you’re hearing about safety on Air Force One.
So how does NORAD do it…. tracking Santa Claus?
“Well obviously we in the military have a multitude of radars and satellites at our disposal.” Duh.
Using standard airspace monitoring tools, Santa’s tracked.
“Basically he starts at the international dateline and travels west,” Nawrocki says. That means Alaska is Santa’s second-to-last stop, with only Hawaii being farther west.
Tracking Santa is a mission NORAD came into by accident.
“There was an ad that was placed in a Sears catalog at Christmas-time and it said, ‘Hey, kids! If you want to talk to Santa, call this number.’ Well the number on the ad was misprinted. And it actually rang to the ops center at — it was called CONAD at the time.”
A colonel named Harry Shoup answered the line in 1955. When he realized kids were trying to get bearings on Santa, he knew he was pretty well-equipped to answer this question, being in the air defense business and all. So he played along, and it’s been a NORAD tradition ever since.
Kids desperate to know where the jolly old fellow is can call NORAD Santa Tracker hotline at 1-877-HI-SANTA. A small army of volunteers in Colorado Springs is on standby to fill kids in on Santa’s progress. Even the First Lady takes calls from her family’s vacation home in Hawaii.
NORAD’s not the only one in on the Santa-tracking business… The tech company Google has its own Santa tracker, eleven years young.