The Waffle House Index: A Sign of Storm Severity

by Warren Seah

As Hurricane Idalia approaches Florida, residents are not only relying on updates from local officials or weather experts like Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel. They are also closely monitoring their local Waffle House.

The renowned restaurant chain is known for serving food around the clock, 365 days a year. However, it has gained another reputation as being exceptionally well-prepared for natural disasters. In fact, former FEMA director Craig Fugate, who previously headed Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, coined the term “Waffle House Index” to assess the severity of storms.

In essence, the Waffle House seldom shuts its doors. So, when it does, locals understand the gravity of the situation. Recently, the question “Is Waffle House closing for Hurricane Idalia” surged in Google searches by over 5,000% within 24 hours. Queries relating to the “Waffle House Index” and “Waffle House hurricane” also experienced a noticeable increase, according to data from Google Trends.

The informal Waffle House Index operates as follows:

  1. Green Index: If a Waffle House remains open and serves its full menu, it suggests minimal storm damage in the area.
  2. Yellow Index: If a Waffle House operates with a limited menu, it indicates problems like power outages or lack of running water within the region.
  3. Red Index: If a Waffle House location is forced to close its doors, it signifies severe damage to the area and a difficult recovery process.

Last summer, a viral TikTok video humorously captured this sentiment by saying, “The Waffle House closed? Let’s get out of here.” This sentiment was echoed by Holly Figueroa O’Reilly, an op-ed writer for The Washington Post, who tweeted ahead of Hurricane Ian’s landfall in Florida: “Florida doesn’t start panicking about hurricanes until the Waffle House closes.”

The Waffle House’s ability to stay open during storms has become a practical indicator for both residents and emergency management agencies. It symbolizes the resilience and preparedness of a community in the face of natural disasters.

Waffle House Index: A Unusual Indicator of Hurricane Impact

The Waffle House Index, a unique measure of hurricane damage created by FEMA’s former director, has gained attention once again as Hurricane Idalia threatens the Gulf Coast. The popular restaurant chain, known for its 24/7 service, plays an unexpected role in assessing the impact of hurricanes on communities.

The Origin of the Waffle House Index

When Hurricane Ian forced Waffle House to close over 20 restaurants in Florida last fall, Njeri Boss, the vice president of public relations at Waffle House, explained the purpose behind the Waffle House Index. Originally developed by FEMA, this index serves as a simple tool to help assess the damage caused by a hurricane once it is safe to return to the affected area.

Preparations for Hurricane Idalia

As Hurricane Idalia gains strength and aims for Florida, both President Joe Biden and Governor Ron DeSantis have declared a state of emergency. With forecasts predicting Idalia to become an extremely dangerous major hurricane, over 20 counties have issued evacuation orders. To support preparation efforts, FEMA has already deployed personnel and assets to the state, as announced by President Biden. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also taken precautions by rerouting aircraft and closing Gulf routes ahead of the impending landfall.

Unconventional Reactions on Social Media

On social media platforms like TikTok and X, some individuals from Florida and Southern regions have humorously shared their threshold for panic amidst hurricanes. They jokingly express the belief that true concern arises only when meteorologist Jim Cantore arrives in their neighborhood or when their nearest Waffle House shuts down.


While the Waffle House Index serves as an interesting indicator of hurricane impact, it is essential to prioritize safety by following the guidance of local government officials. As Hurricane Idalia poses a significant threat to the Gulf Coast, everyone in the affected areas should take appropriate measures to ensure their well-being.

Associated Press contributed.

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