Just days before Hurricane Ian hit Florida, my Floridian friend was visiting Chicago. This is her first hurricane season living in the Sunshine State, and I asked if she was worried. At the time, she said no, pointing to her longtime Floridian mother-in-law as the barometer. You can’t pay attention to the weather reports, she told me, because they can sometimes cause unwarranted panic. But the most reliable sign that it’s about to get bad is a “closed” sign in a Waffle House window. That’s right—it’s the Waffle House Index.
Waffle House’s own webpage about this phenomenon quotes FEMA administrator Craig Fugate: “If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad.” The unofficial scale goes like this:
- GREEN: Full menu; the restaurant sustained little or no damage from storms and has full power
- YELLOW: Limited menu; the restaurant is running out of food or has limited power
- RED: The Waffle House is closed due to severe flooding or damage
Before Hurricane Ian hit land in Florida on Wednesday, Waffle House preemptively closed 21 locations in the path of the storm, NBC News reported, signaling to Floridians that it was time to board up the windows and stock up on jugs of water. And according to AccuWeather, Waffle House employees are trained to be ready to step in during the after effects of the storm as well. “Waffle House Jump Teams” can quickly reopen the restaurant as soon as it’s safe to do so. This isn’t just to earn revenue, but also to make sure people without power, food, or water have somewhere to go.
The closure of Walt Disney World in Orlando, which is fairly far inland and therefore not as likely to get hit the hardest, is another sign of just how destructive Hurricane Ian was projected to be. While the theme park does have a built-in “Hurricane Exception” for ticket holders (the only type of refund permitted on ticket purchases), the park has only closed eight times for hurricanes in the last 51 years, according to The Points Guy.
If you ever find yourself in danger of being caught in a tropical storm, the meteorologists and news reports will inundate you with facts and figures—but the nearest Waffle House will tell you the full story.