Herald illustration/Sean Lamphere

By Rebecca LaFlure

Killeen Daily Herald

The North American Aerospace Defense Command is geared up to track Santa Claus and his reindeer this Christmas Eve as they make their annual trip across the globe.

NORAD, which has tracked St. Nick for more than 50 years, will use high-tech satellites, radar and Santa cams to follow him delivering toys to children.

About 1,200 volunteers will stand by to answer telephone calls and e-mails from kids curious about when Santa is set to come down the chimney.

"It's a great way for families to start Christmas," NORAD spokesman Maj. Mike Humphreys said. "It's a fun program for the kids, and many parents use it to get their children to bed on Christmas Eve."

NORAD, a military organization responsible for the aerospace and maritime defense of the United States and Canada, will broadcast feeds on its Web site at www.noradsanta.org.

The tradition began by accident in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. ad misprinted a telephone number for children to call Santa. Children were surprised when their calls didn't reach Santa's workshop, but the Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD's predecessor.

Last year, millions of people who wanted to know Santa's whereabouts visited the Web site, and the operations center received about 75,000 phone calls from countries as far as Great Britain and Japan, Humphreys said.

NORAD has 42 radar sites placed around North America to track Santa's movement, and a satellite will be able to detect Rudolph's bright nose from space, Humphreys said.

Santa Claus attended a "mission safety briefing" with NORAD officials last week where they informed him of the weather forecasts for areas around the world.

As children count down the days to Santa's arrival, they can view Santa's elves preparing gifts for delivery online and find which shop in the village is the busiest.

Beginning at 5 a.m. Thursday, visitors to the "NORAD Tracks Santa" Web site can watch Santa as he checks his list and prepares for flight.

The operations center, based in Colorado, will begin answering phones and replying to e-mails at 5 a.m. Christmas Eve. Children of all ages can call 877-Hi-NORAD (877-446-6723) toll-free, or can send an e-mail to noradtrackssanta@gmail.com.

As soon as Santa takes off from the North Pole, children can follow him through Google Maps and Google Earth reports. They can also discuss his whereabouts on Facebook and Twitter.

TV media outlets use NORAD to track Santa's journey during their Christmas Eve broadcasts.

"It's something we've done for as long as I've been here," said Matt Hines, chief meteorologist at KXXV-TV, News Channel 25. "It's all in good spirit."

Contact Rebecca LaFlure at rlaflure@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7548.

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