Waffle House Is Letting Florida Know Just How Bad Hurricane Ian May Get

Everyone with a Waffle House in their neighborhood knows the greasy spoon is open come rain or shine, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But, there are some weather conditions even Waffle House cannot defy — like in 2017 when Hurricane Irma blew out a window at a location in Davie, Florida, forcing the restaurant to close until it was fixed, per the Miami Herald.

The diner's reputation for reliability is such that emergency officials began (unofficially) using the restaurant's decision to stay open or to close as a barometer of how bad things were expected to get — giving birth to the Waffle House Index. While Florida's former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate gets full credit for inventing the term, the year it came into use appears to be under some dispute, with some saying the term was coined in 2004 after a cluster of hurricanes hit the East Coast, according to The Economist. Others, like AccuWeather, say Fugate adopted the term in 2011, after the Joplin tornado, which caused $2.8 billion worth of damage. 

Regardless of when it was born, Fugate tells Fox 13 News, "Waffle House became almost like a rough guidepost. If it was open and had a full menu we probably weren't in the worst-hit areas yet."

Waffle Houses are closed in Florida

The "Waffle House Index" currently has three levels of operation during a storm: green, yellow, and red. When the Waffle House Index is green, the restaurant can serve up a full menu, because it has power and has likely experienced little or no damage at all. A Waffle House operating at yellow indicates the restaurant can only serve a limited menu due to it running out of food and having limited power. When a Waffle House is at red, the restaurant is closed, per Fox 13 News. "We actually have a storm playbook that every restaurant has. We revise it each year as needed. And it tells the management team what to do in the event of an emergency," says Waffle House Vice President of Public Relations Njeri Boss, per Fox 13 News.

With Hurricane Ian threatening Florida, all eyes are on the Waffle House Index to see what it has to say, and Twitter users have flooded social media with the verdict. "Conditions deteriorating here in Punta Gorda, FL as Hurricane #Ian approaches as a high cat 4 almost cat 5 hurricane. Waffle House even closed and boarded up." said one user. "This is nothing to mess around with. Waffle Houses have closed, rare," tweeted another. "It shifted again slightly during the night. We are still in the cone. They are saying Ian is very close to being a Cat. 5 & Waffle Houses between Tampa & Orlando are closed now," this concerned user posted.