The Waffle House Index is a real thing that the government uses to gauge natural disasters

We'll just say this. If the Waffle House closes, you better get out of there.

If you’re not from the South you may not realize it, but one of the ways folks know how bad a storm will be or was is all based on whether or not the Waffle Houses close up shop. It’s just a fact of life. If Waffle House is still open, things are gonna be fine. If they start closing… well, it’s probably too late to get out and you done messed up. It’s called the “Waffle House Index.”

See, in 2011, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate was in charge of Florida’s emergency response. The thing about Waffle House is that the restaurants are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. So Fugate thought the restaurants would be a good indication of how a community was preparing for or recovering after a storm.

Here’s how it works.

If Waffle House is open and serving full meals, FEMA knows things are going well and the index is green.

If the diner is only serving a limited menu, it tells FEMA there may be supply or power issues in an area. That equals a yellow on the index.

But if a Waffle House is closed, FEMA knows it’s bad, and the index turns red. Since Waffle House is so prepared for disasters, the index doesn’t turn red very often.

In fact, Hurricane Matthew was so threatening that all of the Waffle Houses from Titusville to Fort Pierce on I-95 in Florida were closed ahead of the storm’s landfall. To put that into perspective, only a few locations shuttered up during Irma the following year. And those were based on evacuation orders, according to this tweet from the restaurant.

It’s an important point of reference for many Southerners, regardless of the phenomenon. Some might even call it a unifying unit of measurement.


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