Weather Watch

How Santa travels around the world in one night

Santa checking his list in the final days before his big trip.
Santa checking his list in the final days before his big trip.

Listen closely, and you may hear the sound of rustling bells and hoofbeats on your roof Thursday night as Kris Kringle makes his rounds from his home in the far North in a land of ice and snow.

From the North Pole, Santa is able to reach the majority of the Earth’s population with the shortest travel times. He also chose the North Pole because temperatures are relatively warmer than at the South Pole.

The great white expanse of the South Pole is frightfully cold. On July 21, 1983, the air temperature reached minus 128.6 degrees at Russia’s Vostok Research Station. (When it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s winter south of the equator.) The station rests on a windswept landscape atop a 9,000-foot-thick plateau of ice. The climate at the South Pole is bone dry, almost never receiving any precipitation. All in all, the weather is a bit too dry and cold for St. Nicholas and his tireless elves.

However, the North Pole — where the Earth’s axis of rotation meets the Earth’s surface — sits on an ocean, and temperatures are not quite as cold. Because of the shifting ice floes at the pole, rumor has it that Santa actually lives a little farther south on Ellesmere Island in Quttinirpaaq National Park, Canada. The park is the northernmost part of Canada. In Inuktitut, Quttinirpaaq means “top of the world.”

The park is dominated by rock, ice and mountains. Along the park’s Arctic Ocean coastline, a fjord leads to a small secret valley surrounded by rugged mountains and lofty cliffs covered by dark-green moss and gray lichens. This stealthy valley’s air temperatures are kept pleasantly mild by geothermal springs that flow year-round. In this valley, according to unconfirmed reports, sits Santa and Mrs. Claus’ secret village, where thousands of elves are hard at work making toys.

Quttinirpaaq National Park also supports a small population of hearty Peary caribou. One subspecies that lives only in this secret valley is the Rudolph reindeer. This small subspecies is unequivocally critical in transporting Santa and his sleigh.

In the winter, the North Pole is in perpetual darkness with the sun constantly below the horizon. During the summer, the midnight sun shines for nearly six months. In other words, during the entire year it feels like there is only one night and one day. This has caused Father Christmas’ circadian cycle to shift from 24 hours to a yearly cycle.

Older kids often ask how Santa can possibly visit all the homes in one single night. In Santa’s paradigm, the night is actually six months long, which gives him plenty of time to jump down chimneys, fill stockings, and drink the milk and eat the cookies left for him at each child’s home.

If you don’t believe me, the North American Aerospace Defense Command tracks him and his reindeer every year heading out of the North Pole to all of our homes.

I sincerely wish everyone a merry Christmas and happy holidays.

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John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is the PG&E Diablo Canyon meteorologist and media relations representative. Email him at pgeweather@pge.com.

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