For more than 60 years, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) have tracked Santa’s iconic Christmas Eve flight.

The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement misprinted the telephone number for children to call Santa. 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 Santa’s location and a tradition was born.

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NORAD

In 1958, the governments of Canada and the United States created a bi-national air defense command for North America, now known as NORAD, which then took on the tradition of tracking Santa.

Since that time, NORAD staff, family and friends have selflessly volunteered their time to personally respond to phone calls and emails from children all around the world. They also track Santa using the internet. Millions of people who want to know Santa’s whereabouts can visit the NORAD Tracks Santa website.

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NORAD

In addition, media from all over the world, including us here at CBS19, rely on NORAD as the most trusted source to provide updates on Santa’s journey.

HOW DOES NORAD TRACK SANTA?

  • RADARS

It all starts with the NORAD radar system called the North Warning System.

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NORAD

This powerful radar system has 47 installations strung across northern Canada and Alaska. NORAD makes a point of checking the radar closely for indications of Santa leaving the North Pole every Christmas season. The moment the radar tells NORAD that Santa has lifted off, they begin to use the same satellites used in providing air warning of possible missile launches aimed at North America.

  • SATELLITES

These satellites are located in a geo-synchronous orbit (that’s a cool phrase meaning the satellite is always fixed over the same spot on the Earth) at 22,300 miles above the Earth. The satellites have infrared sensors (meaning they can see heat). When a rocket or missile is launched, a tremendous amount of heat is produced – enough for the satellites to see them.

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NORAD

Rudolph’s nose gives off an infrared signature, similar to a missile launch. The satellites detect Rudolph’s bright, red nose with no problem.

  • JET FIGHTERS

The last system used is the NORAD jet fighter. Canadian NORAD fighter pilots, flying the CF-18, take off out of Newfoundland and welcome Santa to North America.

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NORAD

Then, at numerous locations in Canada, other CF-18 fighter pilots escort Santa. While in the United States, American NORAD fighter pilots, in either the F-15s, F-16s or F-22s, get the thrill of flying with Santa and the famous reindeer – Dasher, Dasher, Prance, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph. Even though Santa flies faster than any jet fighter (Santa actually slows down for NORAD to escort him), all of the systems, together, provide NORAD with a very good, continuous picture of Santa’s whereabouts.

WHEN WILL SANTA ARRIVE AT YOUR HOUSE?

NORAD tracks Santa, but only knows his route, which means NORAD cannot predict when he will arrive at your house. 

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NORAD

They do, however, know from history that it appears Santa arrives only when children are asleep. In most countries, it seems Santa arrives between 9 p.m. and midnight. If children are still awake when Santa arrives, he moves on to other houses. He will return later, but only when children are asleep.

When traveling, Santa usually starts at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean and travels west. So, historically, Santa visits the South Pacific first, hen New Zealand and Australia. After that, he shoots up to Japan, over to Asia, across to Africa, then onto Western Europe, Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central and South America.

Keep in mind, Santa’s route can be affected by weather, so it’s really unpredictable. NORAD coordinates with Santa’s Elf Launch Staff to confirm his launch time, but from that point on, Santa calls the shots. NORAD just tracks him!

HOW CAN SANTA TRAVEL THE WORLD IN 24 HOURS?

NORAD intelligence reports indicate that Santa does not experience time the way we do. His trip seems to take 24 hours to us, but to Santa, it might last days, weeks or even months.

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NORAD

Santa would not want to rush the important job of delivering presents to children and spreading joy to everyone. So, the only logical conclusion is that Santa somehow functions within his own time-space continuum.

HOW OLD IS SANTA?

It’s hard to know for sure, but NORAD intelligence indicates Santa is AT LEAST 16-centuries-old (or 1,600-years-old).

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NORAD

DOES NORAD HAVE ANY STATISTICS ON SANTA’S SLEIGH?

NORAD can confirm Santa’s sleigh is versatile, all-weather, multi-purpose, vertical short-take-off and landing vehicle.

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NORAD

It is capable of traveling vast distances without refueling and is deployed, as far as NORAD knows, only on December 24 (and sometimes briefly for a test flight about a month before Christmas).

Sleigh Technical Data:

  • Designer and Builder – K. Kringle & Elves, Inc.
  • Probably First Flight – December 24, 343 A.D.
  • Home Base – North Pole
  • Length (without reindeer) – 75 CCs (candy canes)/150 LPs (lollipops)
  • Width (without reindeer) – 40 CCs/80 LPs
  • Height (without reindeer) – 55CCs/110 LPs
  • Weight at Takeoff – 75,000 GDs (gumdrops)
  • Passenger Weight at Takeoff – Santa Claus, 260 pounds
  • Weight of Gifts at Takeoff – 60,000 tons (120 million pounds)
  • Weight at Landing – 80,000 GDs (ice and snow accumulation)
  • Passenger Weight at Landing – Santa Claus, 1,260 pounds
  • Propulsion – 9 RPs (reindeer power)
  • Armament – Antlers (purely defensive)
  • Fuel – Hay, oats and carrots (for reindeer)
  • Climbing Speed – 1 T (twinkle of the eye)
  • Max Speed – FTS (faster than starlight)

WHERE IS SANTA BEFORE HE TAKES FLIGHT?

Before heading out for his annual trip, Santa is at the North Pole, where he lives with Mrs. Claus and the elves who make toys and take care of the reindeer year-round.

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NORAD

Each year, on December 24, Santa and his reindeer launch from the North Pole very early in the morning for their famous trip around the world. The minute they launch, NORAD starts to track him. Check here on Christmas Eve so you can track Santa along with NORAD!

HAS SANTA EVER CRASHED INTO ANYTHING WHEN HE WAS FLYING?

Santa has been flying for centuries without hitting anything. He must be a great pilot!

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NORAD

IS THERE A NUMBER YOU CAN CALL TO TRACK SANTA?

Yes! The NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center is fully operational beginning at 4 a.m. MST on December 24.

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NORAD

You can call 1-877-HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) to talk directly to a NORAD staff member who will be able to tell you Santa’s exact location. Operators are available until midnight.

You can also send an email to noradtrackssanta@outlook.com.

A NORAD staff member will give you Santa’s last known location in a return email. You can also track Santa on your mobile device, through the official Windows 10 app, and you can even chat live with a NORAD operator to find out Santa’s location

WHAT CAN YOU DO WHILE WAITING FOR SANTA?

The NORAD website has some activities you can do while waiting for Jolly Ol' Saint Nick: