The “Waffle House Index” is in full effect

Hurricane Michael is now on top of the Gulf Coast, disrupting flights and forcing the evacuation of some 22 counties in Florida and Alabama in the face of “catastrophic” 140 mph winds. Now comes some even more alarming news–Waffle Houses have closed.

That may sound glib, but it’s not. The Waffle House’s status has become a barometer for FEMA to measure the severity of storms. The aptly named Waffle House Index was created by former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate back in 2011 and is used by the agency to measure a storm’s impact on a community.

As anyone who has stumbled into a Waffle House at 4 a.m. knows, the restaurants are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. FEMA realized that because the threshold for a Waffle House to close is extremely high, their closures are worth paying attention to. Once the storm hits, FEMA will monitor the restaurants. If a Waffle House is open during a storm, it gets a “green” (and is probably already serving up scattered and smothered hash browns to first responders). If it’s open, but has a limited menu due to lost power or other issues, it gets a “yellow.”

If a disaster forces a Waffle House to turn off its bright lights, it is considered “red.” Hurricane Michael is so ominous that, as of Wednesday, Waffle House has closed 18 restaurants, USA Todayreports. The shuttered buildings are no surprise to the folks at the Waffle House Storm Center, the in-house team that mobilizes during extreme weather events, and has been monitoring the storm’s path since Monday.

When the wind dies down and the water recedes, Waffle House will be back in action, serving, as Anthony Bourdain once said, as “a beacon of hope and salvation, inviting the hungry, the lost, the seriously hammered all across the south to come inside. A place of safety and nourishment. It never closes. It is always faithful, always there for you.”

By Melissa Locker

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