NORAD 'tracks' Santa's journey across globe
Colorado Springs, Colo. — Volunteers at the North American Aerospace Defense Command pretended to monitor Santa Claus as he made his storybook Christmas Eve flight, saying they used the heat signature from Rudolph's nose to "track" St. Nick over spots ranging from Australia to the Americas.
Technology and social media became an important part of the U.S. and Canadian military tradition, and NORAD Tracks Santa attracted around 1.6 million Facebook "likes."
The volunteers on Wednesday answered phone calls and emails from children and posting updates on the mythical journey to Facebook, Twitter and NORADSanta.org.
The 59-year-old program now has a control center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, and it generates enough statistics, anecdotes and stories to fill a sleigh:
How it works: Kids can call 877-HI-NORAD or email email@example.com on Christmas Eve. A volunteer checks a big-screen computer monitor and passes along Santa's location. Updates are posted at noradsanta.org, facebook.com/noradsanta and twitter.com/NoradSanta. The volunteers will keep answering questions through 3 a.m. MST on Christmas Day.
Latest movements: NORAD said Santa made his final stop at the Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean early Christmas Day before heading home to the North Pole.
So far this year: NORAD Tracks Santa had around 1.6 million Facebook likes as of Thursday morning. Twitter followers stood around 159,000. Initial website visits weren't available yet.
And last year: The website attracted more than 19.5 million unique visitors in December, the Facebook page drew 1.45 million "likes" and the Twitter feed had 146,000 followers. Volunteers took 117,000 phone calls and answered 9,600 emails. Another 800 inquiries came in via OnStar. The Facebook likes, Twitter followers, phone calls and OnStar questions were all record highs for NORAD Tracks Santa.
Growing fast: Visits to the website, which was launched in 1997, peaked at 22.3 million in 2012 before dropping to about 19.6 million last year. The reason isn't clear, but Maj. Beth Castro, a NORAD spokeswoman, said the website might not have been able to accommodate all the traffic.
Phone calls: Phone calls rose from about 74,000 in 2009 to more than 117,000 in 2013.
Social media: Facebook "likes" grew from 1 million in 2011 to 1.45 million last year; Twitter followers were up from 101,000 to more than 146,000.
New this year: The website has an animated elf named Radar. "Radar" was the favorite in a vote on Facebook, beating out "DARON," which is NORAD spelled backward, and "Echo L. Foxtrot," which uses the military phonetic alphabet to spell out "elf." NORAD Tracks Santa also has a new mobile version of its website for smartphones.
What's NORAD? The joint U.S.-Canada command is responsible for defending the skies and monitoring the sea approaches for both nations. Its control room was originally inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs in a shelter designed to withstand a nuclear attack. The control room is now at Peterson Air Force Base, also in Colorado Springs.