Hurricane Dorian: Waffle House Index and why FEMA watches it

Hurricane Dorian is expected to make landfall on Florida’s Atlantic coast by Monday morning as a Category 3 or 4 storm.

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As Dorian batters the state, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials will be keeping a close eye on an unlikely indicator – the Waffle House Index – to measure the severity of the storm.

The Waffle House Index, which was started with Hurricane Charley during the 2004 season, assigns color codes to measure the state of areas impacted by a storm.

“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.” Such a scenario was marked green.

A restaurant that was open with a limited menu – probably wasn’t in the hardest-hit area – and was tagged yellow. Any restaurant that was closed was red.

“If you’re across any area that’s got Waffle Houses after a big storm they’re generally going to be the first ones open and the last ones to close,” Fugate said.

Waffle House has about 340 locations in Florida, with the heaviest concentration in the Orlando, Daytona and Jacksonville areas. The restaurant chain says it expects locations throughout the state to be impacted in one way or another.

“Right now we’ve activated our storm center so we are mainly tracking the storm and positioning some resources, but still it’s kind of early because I don’t think anyone has a good grasp on where the storm is going to go,” said Pat Warner, director of PR and External Affairs at Waffle House.

“We’re in contact with our Federal, State and local partners and when the evacuations are in effect that’s when we will shut them down,” Warner said.

Fugate has a tip for anyone in Dorian’s path.

“If you’re going to leave your area, make sure you have a destination and a place to go before you leave,” he said.

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“If you’re going to a hotel or a motel, make sure you have a reservation or you may end up driving a lot further than you anticipated because things will fill up quickly as people start evacuating.”