Hurricane Estado (2012)


March 15, 2012
March 21, 2012

Maximum winds:

150 mph (240 k/h)

Lowest pressure:

937 mbar


8,907 direct, 1,034 indirect, 456 missing


$27 billion (2012 USD)
$30 billion (2019 USD)

Area(s) affected:


Part of the:

2011-12 South Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Estado was the costliest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the South Atlantic basin, though records before 1991 remain incomplete. It was a powerful Category 4 hurricane, one that struck the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro on March 19, 2012, killing nearly ten thousand, and causing over $27 billion in damage (2012 USD).

Meteorological history

Estado began life as a rare tropical wave over western Kenya, which moved off the African coast on March 11. The wave began to form into a tropical depression, but many meteorological centers on both the eastern South American and western African coasts believed that high South Atlantic wind shear, which typically slows down, and even reverses a tropical cyclone's formation and strengthening, would shred the depression apart. But models released by the United States's National Hurricane Center (NHC) to local South Atlantic meteorological centers predicted that owing to a recent sea-level rise of nearly a meter from the Western Greenland ice sheet's collapse after the Nuuk earthquake, global sea surface temperatures were nearly eight degrees above normal.

Even as shear continued to batter at the system, it quickly began to strengthen, and reached tropical storm strength around midday on March 13, with maximum winds increasing to 45 mph (75 km/h). As per the 2009 World Meteorological Organization (WMO) meeting, after an increase in tropical cyclone activity in the South Atlantic that year, the Spanish name Estado was assigned to the storm, as it was the fifth named tropical cyclone to form in the basin during the 2011-12 South Atlantic hurricane season.

The storm continued to rapidly intensify, reaching Category 1 strength around 8:00 p.m. AST, though the environment caused fluctuations in Estado's intensity, owing to usual South Atlantic conditions. Over the next six hours, the system strengthened from a minor hurricane with 80 mph winds to a Category 2 with 105 mph winds and a minimum barometric pressure of 970 mbar (28.64 inches of mercury). At the time, the hurricane was located about 350 miles east of the Brazilian coastline. Some track models even indicated that Estado would head toward Rio de Janeiro.

However, the environmental fluctuations had abated by the morning of the 16th, thereby allowing Estado to reach Category 3 major hurricane intensity of 130 mph, a record for the South Atlantic. The previous record holder had been 2004's Hurricane Catarina, which had sustained winds of weak Category 2 strength (around 100 mph). Estado's forward speed was fairly quick, but it had no steering currents and as such, wandered for a couple of days, until it finally settled on a fairly predictable track early on the 18th: toward Rio de Janeiro. Around the same time, an NOAA reconnaissance SR-101 'Spirit' craft entered the hurricane's eye and recorded sustained winds of around 135 mph, indicating that Estado had gone a step further and advanced to Category 4 strength.

Late that evening, Estado had reached its peak strength of 150 mph and 937 mbar and was still on course to Rio. The outer rainbands began lashing at the city with wind gusts to 65 mph and torrential rain around 1:00 a.m., while peak gusts within the storm itself were recorded at 187 mph, 7 hours before the storm's Rio landfall. The U.S. Navy destroyer Cole was caught in Estado's western semicircle, leaving the ship battered and killing 2 crew, while also sustaining substantial damage to the targeting array and taking on water in the central compartments.

At 9:09 a.m. AST on March 19, Estado made landfall in Rio de Janeiro at peak strength, causing significant landslides that killed nearly two-thousand and buried thousands more.


  • Rio de Janeiro - Brazilian authorities initiated immediate evacuations of the city hours after the first hurricane warnings were issued late on the 16th. The mountains surrounding the city, and the the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car system were also evacuated, since both of which would be vulnerable to both the high winds and potential landslides that could dislodge the cable car supports. All downtown high-rises were evacuated due to obvious concerns about flying glass and other debris from the high winds. After the first warnings that were issued, all beaches had been cleared by morning, mainly because of higher-than-normal surf conditions and rip currents. Twenty foot-high sandbag and concrete walls were erected along the outer perimeter of the city as soon as everyone had cleared the beaches and all buildings within twenty-five feet of the beaches as well. The Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio was closed to visitors that same morning, and was temporarily sealed for the duration to prevent damage from high winds and rain.