It's the number one question that everyone wants answered on Christmas Eve -- where is Santa and when is he getting to my house?
A team of trackers at the North American Aerospace Command is gearing up to keep youngsters and the young-at-heart up to date on Santa's whereabouts with its annual NORAD tracks Santa campaign. "It's just a great program," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Lewis of NORAD. "It's just innocence. It doesn't matter where in the world children are calling from, children are children."
NORAD is a bi-national U.S./Canadian military organization that is responsible for aerospace warning and control and maritime warning in the defense of North America, according to its web site. NORAD provides warnings of impending missile and air attacks, safeguards the air sovereignty of North America and maintains airborne forces for defense against attack.
NORAD's predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command, began tracking Santa in 1955. When NORAD replaced CONAD in 1958, it took over the mission of tracking Santa's flight around the world. Today more than 1,250 American and Canadian uniformed personnel and Department of Defense civilians volunteer their time on Christmas Eve to answer the thousands of calls and emails that come in from around the world. Lewis said the volunteers work a two hour shift on Christmas Eve and begin tracking Santa as soon as he takes off. Two lead project managers manage the program.
According to trackers at NORAD, Santa usually begins his trip at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean and travels west. That means that Santa visits the South Pacific first, then New Zealand and Australia. He then heads to Japan, over to Asia, across to Africa, then onto Western Europe, Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central and South America.
Lewis said historically Santa makes it to the east coast of the United States sometime between 10 p.m. and midnight on Christmas Eve. And, Lewis had a special message for children. He said that Santa doesn't stop at houses where children are awake. Santa passes those houses by and comes back when the youngsters are sleeping, he said.
"He knows when you're asleep and he knows when you're awake," said Lewis, who added that having to detour back to houses where children were awake "only slows Santa down."
Trackers say everyone should keep in mind that Santa's route can be impacted by weather, so it is unpredictable. NORAD works closely with Santa's elf launch staff to confirm his launch time, but after Santa and his sleigh, powered by nine reindeer, are in the air, the route is up to him. Lewis said it's pretty easy to determine when Santa has taken off.
"Rudolph's nose glows so bright, it has its own heat signature," he explained. "We pick it up pretty easily."
NORAD has also been able to get some pictures of Santa while he's making his journey. Based on those photographs, trackers say Santa is probably around 5'7'' tall, weighs about 260 pounds (that's before he eats all the cookies and milk that are left out for him on Christmas Eve); has a generous belly, rosy cheeks and a flowing white beard.
And about that sleigh -- NORAD trackers describe it this way: It's a versatile, all-weather multi-purpose vertical short take-off and landing vehicle.
There's several ways you can connect with NORAD on Christmas Eve. Visit them on the web at www.noradsanta.org;  "like" them on Facebook; or you can call 1-877-446-6723 to talk to a tracker.
Article by Julia LeDoux, Army.mil