MUNDANE MYSTERIES: What Is “The Waffle House Index”?

On Wednesday (Sept. 28), Hurricane Ian pounded Florida’s western coast. Streets flooded…houses were swept away…Waffle Houses closed. But why do Waffle Houses matter amidst all of this? Well, because of “The Waffle House Index”! What is “The Waffle House Index”? I’m glad you asked!

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has loads of tools & assets it uses to assess & deal with natural disasters. Its meteorologists forecast storm movements, wind speeds, precipitation, etc., then federal resources get deployed to the most affected areas. But when FEMA needs accurate, ground-level gauging of how a community’s coping in a crisis, they look to Waffle House (and have been since 2004).

Yes, Waffle House…that bastion of casual dining that’s almost always open 24/7/365. FEMA monitors Waffle House’s locations to see which ones might be closing or possibly dealing with limited supplies due to severe weather. And this system actually works, because it lets FEMA know if affected areas are currently hurting or if they’re getting back to normal.

The thought process is: if a disaster forces a Waffle House to close, then that disaster must be bad. So, FEMA classifies that level as “red”. If Waffle Houses in an affected area are open but with limited menus, then that’s the “yellow” level. And “green” means everything’s good. Nothing to see or worry about.

Being able to order your scattered, smothered, covered, topped, chunked, and capped hash browns is an important data point for FEMA. Because if a Waffle House is having trouble getting stock, then that means transportation’s likely been interrupted. If the menu’s limited, then it’s likely some utilities are available but not all. Or if a Waffle House locks its doors, then really bad weather’s taken over (Waffle House would usually stay open, if possible, to serve 1st responders).

Oh, and storms aren’t the only reason Waffle House might close. Remember March of 2020? That was when the Waffle House Index rose to red as locations across the country shuttered in the early stages of the pandemic. But for us here now, as what’s left of Ian makes its way through our neck of the woods, maybe tonight would be a good night to make a Waffle House run & try some Burt’s chili!

Hungry for a solved Mundane Mystery of your own? Order one up by sending me a message via Twitter (@AndyWebbRadio), or by shooting me an email ([email protected]).

BROUGHT TO YOU BY: Berryville Graphics