Thunder, lightning and heavy rain struck down on Rio de Janeiro on Sunday night (15 February) at the height of Brazilian carnival, but the samba schools set to open the elite group parades were not disheartened.

Friday and Saturday saw the Grupo A, or second league schools, battle it out for their place in the Grupo Especial, or elite group, whose two-day show was opened on Sunday by Viradouro school.

The red and white school became overall carnival champions in 1997 but dropped down into the second league for many years before claiming the top spot of Grupo A in 2014, giving them a hotly contested place amongst the elite group in 2015.

For those representing the school, the excitement to be back among the stars was huge.

Neither the drums, the dancers nor the crowds' spirits were dampened by the pelting rain when Viradouro stepped onto the 700 metre-walkway with a spectacle celebrating the African roots of Brazil.

For some, the rain even took on a spiritual significance.

Second to conquer the conditions was Mangueira, the famously green and pink school, which is of the most traditional in Rio de Janeiro, with the widest fan base.

Mangueira's carnival theme this year is a celebration of Brazilian women, for which the school was sponsored by the United Nations.

Rafael Nadal also paraded on Sunday as a special guest with Viradouro school, since he is in Rio de Janeiro for the Rio Open the following week.