(Photo: NORAD Tracks Santa)
(TheBlaze/AP) -- Volunteers at a Colorado Air Force base monitoring maps showing Santa Claus' progress are only a few hours into their goodwill mission, but have already answered more than 7,000 phone calls from people asking about good St. Nick.
Phones are ringing nonstop at Peterson Air Force Base, headquarters of the North American Aerospace Command's annual Santa-tracking operation.
Dozens of helpers at NORAD are taking calls and tracking Santa's location on large projection screens, posting updates for more than 1 million Facebook fans and 107,000 Twitter followers.
The maps show Santa heading west, from Australia to the Middle East, eventually to North America. The volunteers will keep updating through 3 a.m. Mountain Time on Christmas morning.
The program began decades ago when a newspaper ad listed the wrong phone number for kids to call Santa. They wound up accidentally calling the Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD's predecessor, and a tradition was born.
The site elaborates:
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 his location, and a tradition was born. [Emphasis added]
But how does it work? How can they "track" Santa Claus?
The NORAD site spins a wild story:
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...On December 24th, 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...Amazingly, Rudolph's bright red nose gives off an infrared signature, which allows our 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 fourth system is made up of fighter jets. Canadian NORAD fighter pilots flying the CF-18 fighter jets 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 and his famous reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and, of course, Rudolph. [Emphasis added]
According to the Associated Press, a little boy from Missouri phoned in to ask what time Santa delivered toys to heaven. The boy's mother got on the line to explain that his sister had died this year.
"I think Santa headed there first," the NORAD volunteer told him.