For more than 50 years, NORAD and its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) have tracked Santa’s flight.
The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement for children to call Santa misprinted the telephone number. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief’s operations “hotline.” The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born.
In 1958, the governments of Canada and the United States created a bi-national air defense command for North America called the North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as NORAD, which then took on the tradition of tracking Santa. Since that time, NORAD men, women, family and friends have selflessly volunteered their time to personally respond to phone calls and emails from children all around the world. In addition, they now track Santa using the Internet. Millions of people who want to know Santa’s whereabouts now visit the NORAD Tracks Santa website: www.noradsanta.org. NORAD uses four high-tech systems to track Santa – radar, satellites, Santa cams and fighter jets.
Tracking Santa starts with the NORAD radar system called the North Warning System. This powerful radar system consists of 47 installations strung across the northern border of North America. On Dec. 24, NORAD monitors the radar systems continuously for indications that Santa Claus has left the North Pole. The moment that radar indicates Santa has lifted off, we use our second detection system. Satellites positioned in geo-synchronous orbit at 22,300 miles from the Earth’s surface are equipped with infrared sensors, which enable them to detect heat. Amazingly, Rudolph’s bright red nose gives off an infrared signature, which allows their satellites to detect Rudolph and Santa.
The third tracking system is the Santa cam network. We began using it in 1998, which is the year we put our Santa Tracking program on the internet. Santa cams are ultra-cool, high-tech, high-speed digital cameras that are pre-positioned at many locations around the world. NORAD only uses these cameras once a year. The cameras capture images and videos of Santa and his reindeer as they make their journey around the world. The fourth system is made up of fighter jets. Canadian NORAD fighter pilots flying the CF-18 intercept and welcome Santa to North America. In the United States, American NORAD fighter pilots in either the F-15, F-16 or the F-22 get the thrill of flying alongside Santa.
Once data is collected on Dec. 24, it is pushed into the Google Maps and Google Earth so that families all over the world can also follow Santa.