Waffle House Index: How it measures the severity of a hurricane

Have you heard of the "Waffle House Index?" When it comes to tropical storms and hurricanes, Waffle House can be an unofficial metric of how severe a storm is.

What is the Waffle House Index? 

FEMA has been using the Waffle House Indicator to measure the severity of a storm. It started in 2004 after Hurricane Charley, assigning color codes to measure the impact a natural disaster has on an area. The measure is based on the reputation of Waffle House for staying open during extreme weather and for reopening quickly after severe weather events such as tornadoes or hurricanes.

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It goes like this: 

  • GREEN: full menu- restaurant has power and damage is limited or no damage at all
  • YELLOW: limited menu- no power or only power from a generator, or food supplies may be low
  • RED: the restaurant is closed- indicating severe damage or severe flooding

FOX Weather

"Waffle House became almost like a rough guidepost," former FEMA director Craig Fugate, the creator of the index, told FOX Business. "If it was open and had a full menu we probably weren't in the worst-hit areas yet." 

"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," said Njeri Boss, Vice President of Public Relations for Waffle House. 

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The restaurants have menus for the times they are without water, electricity, and even gas. The menus are limited and do not offer all of the options. This combination means the Waffle House Index rarely reaches the red level.

If a Waffle House closes before a storm, it is a sign that they expect extremely severe weather and that people in the area should also evacuate.

Waffle House has over 2,000 locations across the U.S. with more than 100 in Florida. 

FOX Weather contributed to this report.