Texans Use ‘Whataburger Map’ to Track Power Outages After Beryl

Hurricane Beryl slammed into southeast Texas on Monday, leaving millions of people in the Houston area without power. But with technical problems plaguing the tracker of the city’s main power provider, there was no way to check the status of the outages — or to find the still-lit spots where residents could buy food, gas and other supplies.

Then Bryan Norton, a 55-year-old techie and podcast host, got help from an unexpected source: the Whataburger app.

The app’s map showed where restaurants — which are plentiful in Houston — were still open. Instead of providing Texans with information on where to get burgers, biscuits and taquitos, Norton quickly realized the map could be used to gauge where in the city power was still available or had been restored.

His discovery went viral after he posted it on social media, with thousands of people thanking him for helping them find out if their loved ones had power or how to escape the sweltering heat as temperatures and humidity soared.

“The fact that the Whataburger app gives us that little bit of hope — well, it doesn’t get more Texan than that,” Norton told The Washington Post.

Norton’s eureka moment came during a late-night forage hunt. His home in Tomball, Texas — a town about 35 miles north of downtown Houston — lost power around 7 a.m. Monday when Beryl made landfall as a Category 1 storm, knocking down power lines and toppling trees. His backup generator soon began humming, lighting up the house and powering a refrigerator filled with the barbecue enthusiast’s many pounds of meat. The internet, however, went out that afternoon.

Although he and his wife had planned to curl up for a few days, Norton said they didn’t want to “go completely crazy.” That night, they decided to check out any restaurants that were open. A search led Norton to a restaurant chain that “smacks of my childhood memories,” he said.

He downloaded the Whataburger app, which appeared to be the only restaurant open in Tomball, which made Norton a little skeptical. So he expanded his search to the entire Houston area — and soon saw a patchwork of gray and orange Ws, with the final logos marking open Whataburgers.

“You’d see a whole wave of gray and some orange, and they’d change little by little,” Norton said. “I thought, ‘Holy cow! Now we can see the magnitude of the problem.’ It’s not a perfect tool, of course, but it’s pretty solid.”

After Norton posted about it on X, it quickly spread on social media, being shared on neighborhood pages and family group chats. Users found that an open Whataburger indicated that nearby gas stations or stores might also have power — a handy tracking service at a time when utility CenterPoint Energy’s power restoration map wasn’t working.

As of Wednesday evening, CenterPoint’s website shows that power has been restored to more than 1 million customers, down from a peak of 2.26 million on Monday. About 40 percent of the 165 Whataburger locations in the Houston area are open.

A CenterPoint spokesperson said in a statement to The Post that the outage map has been unavailable since a devastating storm in May led to “technical issues” when customers flooded the site. Plans are to replace the map with a “redesigned cloud-based platform” by the end of July, the spokesperson added.

“We recognize the inconvenience to our customers and will continue to provide updated information on outages,” the statement said.

The scale of the outages and the lack of a tracking map are frustrating residents of the nation’s fourth-largest city. For Carliss Chatman, a business law professor at Southern Methodist University, the issue raises questions about Houston’s preparedness.

“I can start my car from my phone anywhere in the world, but CenterPoint can’t tell me where the power is out?” Chatman said. “So you’re telling me a burger joint has better information about power outages than a utility company?”

Like many Houstonians, Chatman spent Tuesday checking on her loved ones. She said they all had the same burning question: “When am I going to get my power back?”

Chatman jumped on the Whataburger app after a friend shared a post about Norton’s trick. When she saw that a Whataburger was open near her while her house was still without power, she figured the hack wasn’t working.

Within 10 minutes, however, her power was back on. She said she checked her friends’ zip codes against the Whataburger map and it was “very accurate” in showing whether areas had power.

When Michelle Guillot Thibodeaux, 49, heard about what’s now called the “Watt-aburger Map” or the “Whataburger Workaround,” she used it to find out if her Airbnb properties in Galveston still had power. After seeing that the two Whataburgers nearby were marked as closed, she said she assumed the power in the area was still out.

“It’s crazy and incredibly ironic that we’re relying on a Texas favorite like Whataburger to tell us where the electricity is,” Thibodeaux said. “But people are resourceful and they do what they have to do to try to figure out where the power is.”

Ed Nelson, president and CEO of Whataburger, said the company is glad Houstonians are finding the app useful. But he cautioned that it “should only be used as a general idea of ​​power availability.”

It’s not the first time a restaurant chain has been cited during storm emergencies. When disaster strikes the East Coast, even the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been known to rely on what has become known as the Waffle House Index to gauge the severity of the situation.

Similar to the Whataburger tracker, if a Waffle House location is red (meaning the location is closed), the conditions are considered serious.

It’s perhaps fitting that one of the few places still operating near Thibodeaux’s Galveston properties is the Waffle House, she said.

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