By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A powerful Christmas Eve snowstorm descending on much of North America will not slow Santa Claus as he delivers presents to good girls and boys, U.S. military officials who track his annual flight said on Saturday.
"Santa is an excellent pilot and since he lives on the North Pole he knows how to navigate through adverse weather conditions," said John Cornelio, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.
The National Weather Service has issued winter storm and blizzard warnings and watches for the western United States all the way up to northern-tier states. It warned of treacherous travel conditions for those not aboard airborne sleighs.
For 61 years, the defense command has tracked Santa, also known as Kris Kringle, St. Nicholas or Father Christmas, as he and his reindeer-powered sleigh laden with presents traverses the globe.
The tradition began in 1955 when a Colorado Springs newspaper misprinted the phone number of a local department store for kids to call and speak to Santa.
The call instead went to what was then called the Continental Air Defense Command, and the on-duty commander assured the kids who called that Santa was aware of their Christmas wish lists and that all systems were go.
Three years later, the command began the tradition of offering the public updates on Santa's yuletide trek.
Children and their parents can follow his global journey by logging on to www.noradsanta.org for real-time satellite tracking of Santa, and through various social media apps.
In addition, the website features so-called "Santa Cams" that stream videos of Santa as he hits various geographic points.
Children can also call a phone number listed on the NORAD website for updates on his whereabouts, or email questions to teams of Santa's helpers who are in constant contact with him and air traffic controllers.
NORAD's Cornelio, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, said that as St. Nick enters North American airspace, he slows down to greet U.S. and Canadian fighter jet pilots who are scrambled to escort his sleigh.
Cornelio cautioned, however, that while Santa is committed to bring gifts to children, there are certain conditions that must be met.
"Not only do kids have to be good boys and girls, but they also have to be in bed before he can bring presents," he said.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Dan Grebler)