Military officials have assured anxious children the arctic blast and snowstorm that wreaked havoc on U.S. air travel this week will not keep Santa Claus away.
“We have to deal with a polar vortex once in a while, but Santa lives year-round in one at the North Pole, so he’s used to this weather,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Ben Wiseman, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, which tracks Santa’s annual Christmas Eve flight.
For 67 years, NORAD, a joint U.S.-Canadian military command based at Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs, Col., has provided images and updates on Santa’s legendary worldwide journey – along with its main task of monitoring air defenses and issuing aerospace and maritime warnings.
The Santa tracker tradition originated in 1955 with a misprinted telephone number in a Colorado Springs newspaper. A department store encouraged children to call and speak with Santa, but the listed number actually went to what was then known as the Continental Air Defense Command.
An understanding officer took the youngsters’ calls and assured them that Santa, also known as Father Christmas or Saint Nick, was airborne and on schedule to deliver presents to good girls and boys.
Santa does not file a formal flight plan, so the military is never quite sure exactly when he will take off, nor his exact route, NORAD’s Wiseman said, although the Santa tracker went live at 1 a.m. Friday on the NORAD website.
Once the jolly old elf’s lead reindeer, Rudolph, switches on his shiny red nose, military personnel can zero in on his location using infrared sensors, Wiseman said.
U.S. and Canadian fighter jet pilots provide a courtesy escort for him over North America, and Santa slows down to wave, he added.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; editing by Steve Gorman and Philippa Fletcher)