Nearly two dozen Waffle House restaurants are closed across Florida, unsettling for those who view the always-open chain as an informal gauge of just how bad some natural disaster might get. 

With Hurricane Ian bearing down on the state, the 24-hour restaurant chain currently has 21 restaurants closed from Bradenton to Naples, a spokesperson on Wednesday told CBS MoneyWatch in an email. “Those restaurants are located in the direct path of the storm, with a few located in low-lying, flood-prone areas,” she stated. 

“We continue to monitor weather conditions, work closely with local government officials, emergency management teams and our local leadership in the field to make appropriate decisions based on the circumstances in each location,” the spokesperson added. 

Waffle House has more than 1,900 locations in 25 states. 

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Federal emergency officials warn that Hurricane Ian could bring life-threatening storm surge, heavy rain and winds. It made landfall near Cayo Costa, Florida, on Wednesday as a major Category 4 storm — the second-strongest possible category, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Known for its practice of rapidly reopening after disaster hits, or remaining open to feed first responders amid such events, Waffle House is also eyed as a means of assessing damage to an area.

“We’re pretty proud of the fact that it is something that is used,” a Waffle House spokesperson told a local CBS affiliate of the brand being seen as an indicator of a storm’s severity. “More so because it is an outward showing of our commitment to the communities we serve.”

As Craig Fugate, the former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in the past explained: “If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad. That’s where you go to work.”

The so-called Waffle House index ranges from green to yellow to red, depending on whether restaurants are open, closed, or offering a limited menu. 

“If Waffle House can serve a full menu, they’ve likely got power (or are running a generator). A limited menu means an area may not have running water or electricity, but there’s gas for the stove to make bacon, eggs and coffee: exactly what hungry, weary people need,” according to a 2017 FEMA blog post. 


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