Hurricane Irma and the Waffle House Index: What Diners Can Tell You About the Storm

Waffle House has been there for you at your best and worst moments, from picking up bae at the Fort Lauderdale airport at midnight to nursing a hangover over biscuits.

Now Waffle House might also be there for you for some or all of Hurricane Irma this weekend. According to FEMA’s Waffle House Index — an informal metric that began as a joke among staffers — the popular diner chain’s model “hurricane playbook” makes it an accurate representation of how safe it is to leave your house in the midst of a disaster like a hurricane or tornado, as well as how well a community is recovering from that disaster. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, 43 brave Waffle Houses in Texas and Louisiana remained open, with only three forced to close due to flooding.

FEMA says:
If a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green. If it is open but serving from a limited menu, it’s yellow. When the location has been forced to close, the index is red. Because Waffle House is well-prepared for disasters... it’s rare for the index to hit red.

Right now, several South Florida Waffle Houses seem likely to hit red. So maybe don’t leave your house for hash browns.

Miami-Dade County has no Waffle Houses (not until 2018 at least). But if you’re in Key Largo (what are you still doing there?!) or Fort Lauderdale, it’s looking like you might be able to snag a stack of pancakes as the storm approaches (though this reporter wouldn’t recommend it).

Seriously, folks. Know your evacuation zone and stay prepared.

The Key Largo Waffle House will remain fully open until late Thursday morning — presumably for the stragglers who didn’t leave Wednesday. The location is scheduled to be closed Friday and Saturday — code red.

The three Broward locations are a different story. Most intend to remain fully open until instructed otherwise by corporate headquarters. This is a bold statement, because current forecasts put the eye of the storm near the Miami-Dade and Broward coastlines.

At the Southwest Ranches location, a friendly waitress tells New Times that the restaurant will remain open 24/7 through Thursday and Friday, and probably Saturday and Sunday, though her confidence becomes shaky. “I mean, we’re supposed to stay open,” she says. “The thing is, [Waffle Houses] don’t need electricity to stay open.” She shares with a tinge of regret that “only [employees] with mandatory evacuations will be let off work.” This is a point of both pride and shame for the company, which will allow employees to evacuate if they’re in enough danger.

In Davie, a Waffle House manager says the location plans to be open Sunday. Regarding the Keys anomaly, he says about the mainland: “They’re all open unless corporate tells us differently.”

And in Fort Lauderdale, the location closest to the coast, a waitress confirms that their doors will be open “for the whole thing” until they receive orders to close.

None of the Waffle House employees or managers New Times interviewed had ever heard of the Waffle House Index.

In many ways, South Florida is far removed from the cultural South. Waffle House, this great equalizer of the South, is no exception. Maybe the Waffle House Index works. Or maybe it’s another vain South Floridian delusion of grandeur — our perceived evergreen storm immunity buoying us atop the floodwater as we sink our teeth into a biscuit once more.
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Stefanie Fernández is a freelance music and arts writer for Miami New Times. She received her BA in English from Yale University in 2017. She is always lying on the floor listening to the Replacements' "Unsatisfied."