On a warm, cloudy morning in the first week of October, in an anonymous office park just outside Atlanta, operations analyst Matt Stark opened a computer program, ran through some data and looked thoughtfully at the results.
Out in the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Matthew was hurling winds of 115 miles an hour toward the coast of Florida. Hundreds of miles inland, in the headquarters of Waffle House Inc., Stark’s software predicted that 477 of the chain’s almost 1,900 restaurants might be affected by the onrushing storm.
This meant two things. First, as the storm made landfall, some locations of Waffle House – which boasts that every restaurant stays open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – would probably have to close because of power loss or concerns for workers’ safety. And second, sometime after they did, someone would invoke the “Waffle House Index,” the slightly flippant measure of how bad a storm can get.