21 Waffle House locations have closed in preparation for Hurricane Michael — here’s why that’s a bad sign

Waffle House has closed 21 stores in Florida to prepare for Hurricane Michael.

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Waffle House has closed 21 stores in Florida to prepare for Hurricane Michael.
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Flickr/Steve Snodgrass

  • Waffle House has closed 21 restaurants in Florida in preparation for Hurricane Michael. The storm made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday.
  • Waffle House is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is known for staying open during many natural disasters. Because of this, it has become an unofficial way for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to track the severity of a natural disaster.
  • If a Waffle House closes, it suggests the event was bad enough to potentially have devastating effects on the economy.

Waffle House has closed 21 restaurants in preparation for Hurricane Michael, and it signals that the storm is likely to have devastating effects on the economy.

The chain, whose restaurants are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, is famous for staying open during many natural disasters. Because of this, it has become an unofficial way for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to track the severity of a natural disaster. If a Waffle House closes, it suggests the event was bad enough to potentially have devastating effects on the economy.

FEMA internally uses an unofficial “Waffle House Index” to track potentially dangerous events.

“If a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green,” a 2011 article in the magazine EHS Today says. “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.”

This doesn’t just show FEMA how quickly a business might rebound, it also shows it how the larger community is doing.

“The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can re-open, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again – signaling a stronger recovery for that community,” FEMA said in a blog post in 2011.

Pat Warner, director of public relations at Waffle House, confirmed to Business Insider on Wednesday that the 21 restaurants that have closed are located along the Florida Panhandle, between Panama City and Destin.

Warner said that the company will wait until the storm passes to see how bad the damage is and then decide which stores can be reopened.

Hurricane Michael has been designated a Category 4 storm and is currently a more intense storm than Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina. It made landfall on Wednesday afternoon.

Waffle House closed 20 stores during Hurricane Florence, which hit the East Coast in September, and 90 during Hurricane Irma last year.