Santa reviews his flight plan for his annual Christmas Eve trek across the globe in the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command Current Operations Center at the NORAD and Northcom headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michael Kucharek)
(WTSP/USA TODAY) -- Come Donner! Come Blitzen! Come North American Aerospace Defense Command!
That's right. This Christmas, NORAD, the premier U.S.-Canadian air defense directorate, is once again using its super high-tech tracking equipment to keep tabs on jolly old Saint Nick.
Visit the NORAD Santa site
For 365 days of the year, NORAD is dead serious about tracking the skies over North America. But beginning at 2 a.m. Tuesday, the generals and air-sovereignty commanders will be telling Virginia that, yes, there is a Santa Claus. And they've got the satellite tracking of his sleigh to prove it.
This is the organization's 58th year of providing children with up-to-the-minute telemetry on Santa's whereabouts.
Calls to 1-877-Hi-NORAD will be answered by one of 1,250 volunteers who crowd into the call center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.
For many, it's a family Christmas tradition, says NORAD's Lt. Cmdr. Bill Lewis. Last year, the volunteers logged about 114,000 calls and nearly 11,000 emails, NORAD figures show.
Each year at www.noradsanta.org, families can track Santa's flight across the world - live.
There's also a second-by-second Countdown to Track Santa clock. For kids who can't wait, a Kid's Countdown Village has links to holiday facts and North Pole-themed games.
The calls have been a tradition since 1955. According to the story told by the Air Force's Col. Harry Shoup, the local Sears ran an ad that year in Colorado Springs telling local children they could call a number to hear where Santa was.
But the number listed in the ad was one digit off and instead the red hotline phone rang at what was then Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD's precursor.
"It was kids calling looking to talk to Santa," Lewis says. In the spirit of Christmas, "instead of telling them they had the wrong number, Shoup told them where Santa was, and that's how the tradition started."
The program is paid for by 55 corporate contributors, Lt. Commander Lewis said in a press release.
"We have people calling all the time to help," he said. "We just could not do this without the volunteers."
The volunteers sign up for "NORAD Tracks Santa" for a good reason, Lewis said.
"It's the joy of the season in your heart," he said. "When you get the first few phone calls from these kids and hear the innocence in their voices ... if you step back and take it all in, it's incredible."
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