How Does America Measure Extreme Weather?

Wouldn't it be nice to have a quick and reliable way to find out just how bad the weather is going to get? Well, if you live in one of the 2,100 communities around the United States with a nearby Waffle House, you already do.

As whimsical as this might sound, the "Waffle House Index" was actually invented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after it was learned that two local Waffle House restaurants stayed open during the catastrophic tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, in 2011.

The "Waffle House Index" says that if the local Waffle House is closed, stay inside. Since Waffle House restaurants are famous for being open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it makes it easy to discern just how bad the weather is. But it's not just a matter of being open or closed. Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told NPR that there is a red-yellow-green code involved. Red means the weather is bad enough for a particular Waffle House to close, green means the weather is good enough for it to be open, and yellow means it's open but is serving a limited menu due to power outages or a lack of supplies. As of 2020, Waffle Houses can be found in 25 states, mostly in the South. Its hometown of Atlanta has 263 locations.

In March 2020, the "Waffle House Index" was used for a new purpose that had nothing to do with extreme weather. Instead, it was used to identify restaurant closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with many locations closed and the others restricted to carryout orders. The hashtag #WaffleHouseIndexRed began circulating on Twitter. Several hundred Waffle House locations once again opened their doors to diners in late April, as Georgia controversially became one of the first U.S. states to begin reopening restaurants for dine-in service.

What's with Waffle House?

  • Waffle House diners serve about 2 percent of all the eggs used by the American food industry.

  • The first Waffle House was opened on Labor Day in 1955 by neighbors Tom Forkner and Joe Rogers.

  • That Waffle House, located in the Atlanta metropolitan area, now exists as a museum that looks just like the restaurant did in 1955.

More Info: NPR

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