When Waffle House closes, you know it's going to be bad.
The popular restaurant chain known for its waffles and smothered hash browns rarely closes it doors, often providing food and resources to first responders during natural disasters.
But every so often, like this week in Florida, the weather is just too dangerous.
"We do have closures in mandatory evacuation zones and locations within low-lying areas that are subject to severe flooding," Waffle House Vice President of Public Relations Njeri Boss told USA TODAY prior to Hurricane Ian's landfall th. The hurricane was one of the strongest systems in U.S. history, slamming into the west coast of Florida on Wednesday.
As a precaution, the business closed 21 locations across the state from Naples along the Gulf of Mexico north some 120 miles to Bradenton in Manatee County
On Thursday morning, she told USA TODAY an additional 14 stores had also closed, some without power after heavy rains and strong winds hit, bringing the total number of closures to 35.
"We are working to get them open as quickly as we can safely, Boss said.
The Waffle House Storm Center, a team that mobilizes during extreme weather, has been monitoring the storm's path since Ian became a named storm, Boss said.
Hurricane Ian downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday as it continued to move across Florida, leaving millions without power and causing catastrophic flooding.
Ian flooded entire communities, leaving residents stranded in their homes with battering 150-mph maximum sustained winds – just 7 mph shy of a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said at least five deaths have been confirmed in his county. And a 72-year-old man in Deltona died after falling into a canal while using a hose to drain his pool in the heavy rain, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office reported.
More than 2.6 million Florida homes and business were without power early Thursday.
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Boss said, the restaurant is working with local governments and emergency responders around the clock.
"We constantly track storms during hurricane season, following their progress when there is an indication they might make landfall or deliver significant storm conditions," she said.
Do I need to evacuate? How to stay safe as Hurricane Ian approaches Florida's coast
The Federal Emergency Management Agency monitors a "Waffle House Index," a color-coded indicator of what restaurants are open, closed or offering a limited menu, to gauge how well an area will recover from a hurricane, tornado or other hazard.
"The Waffle House test just doesn't tell us how quickly a business might rebound – it also tells how the larger community is faring," a FEMA blog post states. "The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores or banks can reopen, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again – signaling a strong recovery for that community."
'If we have to move ... we'll leave': Floridians talk about preparing for Hurricane Ian
— Dwayne Wayne (@MokaleeMeech) September 28, 2022
How the Waffle House Index works
The Waffle House Index has three tiers: green, yellow and red.
Green means the store will operate fully, and yellow means the restaurants will be open but the menu or power is limited. Red means the store will be closed.
The index has been used to predict how severely weather will affect an area.
"Everything else is foreshadowing. Closed Waffle House means stuff is about to get real," Twitter user Ted Vician posted Wednesday.
Everything else is foreshadowing. Closed Waffle House means stuff is about to get real.
— Ted Vician (@StinkenderKase) September 28, 2022
Jim Cantore is there AND the Waffle Houses are closed? Get out now. https://t.co/1koQia0Pxa
— Kate McCrea (@kate_mccrea) September 28, 2022
Contributing: Jordan Mendoza and Ashley May
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Waffle House closes Florida restaurants across after Hurricane Ian