Hurricane Ian is headed to South Carolina. Waffle House says ‘hold my syrup.’

Adam Benson/The Sun News

As Hurricane Ian continues to barrel up the Atlantic seaboard, meteorologists and emergency response officials are depending on sophisticated computers and scientific models to chart its path.

But sometimes, technology fails. Waffle House, though? In the world of emergency management, it’s the industry standard.

The ubiquitous breakfast chain with more than 2,000 locations in 21 states is known for as much for its All-Star special and black-and-yellow color palate as it is for staying open even in the harshest of conditions.

“People make a joke of it, but that is a big indicator for sure,” Horry County emergency management director Randall Webster said Sept. 29.

The diner-style eatery is so renowned for its durability that in 2011, then Federal Emergency Management Agency director Craig Fugate came up with an informal metric known as the “Waffle House Index” to gauge how severe a storm might be.

Here’s how it works:

  • A full menu means the restaurant has sustained little damage and is operating at full power

  • A limited menu means the restaurant is running out of food or has limited power

  • Code Red: Waffle House is closed and Mother Nature’s wrath is not be trifled with by mere mortals

So when the company announced Sept. 28 it was closing dozens of Florida locations in anticipation of Ian, people started paying attention. “Waffle House” became a top Twitter trend almost immediately.

Company spokeswoman Njeri Boss said 35 stores closed in Florida ahead of Ian’s arrival there, but officials are working hard to get back online.

“If safety is an issue as it was in Florida, we will close. But the goal is to reopen as quickly as possible so people have a place to go,” she said. We won’t stay open at any cost, we try to stay open if it’s going to be safe for our employees, safe for our customers.”

With Ian downgraded to a tropical storm, Myrtle Beach-area Waffle Houses are running normally. A Sun News reporter called six of them — none were planning to adjust their operations over the next several days.

“Our employees live and work in those areas. They need to continue to be able to earn a living to help their families,” Boss said. “Bills don’t stop just because a weather event has occurred, so we have a commitment to be there for them.”

Inside a busy Conway location on Sept. 29, employees took orders and chatted with regulars and winds kicked up and rustled hedges in front.

Several diners watched storm updates on their phones, and patrons shouted “stay safe” as they departed.

Susan and Kyle Green have lived in Myrtle Beach since 2009 and have never evacuated. And they never will unless two things happen.

“One, (The Weather Channel meteorologist) Jim Cantore comes, or Waffle House is closed,” she said outside a Surfside Beach location. “It’s our go to place. It’s a tradition now. We come every time there’s a storm.”

Sun News reporter Caroline Williamson contributed to this story.