Hurricane Matthew is forecast to pound Haiti with winds of up to 130 mph and as much as 40 inches of rain, potentially heading up the Eastern Seaboard after tearing through the Caribbean.
The storm was about 280 miles from Port Au Prince, Haiti, and 220 miles from Kingston, Jamaica, as of Monday morning. Hurricane warnings are in effect for Haiti, Jamaica, eastern Cuba and parts of the Bahamas.
Rainfall surpassing a foot across those islands "will likely produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides," the National Hurricane Center warned.
Matthew is one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recent history and briefly reached the top classification, Category 5, becoming the strongest hurricane in the region since Felix in 2007.
The center's meteorologists are still watching closely to see if or where the storm could threaten U.S. coastline. Forecasts suggest it will weaken from its major storm status after crossing the Bahamas, but it could still be a hurricane passing just off the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina by next weekend.
"Although the official forecast continues to show a track east of Florida, it is still too soon to rule out possible hurricane impacts there," hurricane center forecasters wrote Monday. "It is also too soon to know whether, or how, Matthew might affect the remainder of the United States east coast."
Local forecasters at the weather service's Baltimore/Washington office said they are watching Matthew's predicted track closely.
"Hurricane Matthew may track along or offshore the southeast U.S. and mid-Atlantic coasts Thursday night through the end of the week," they wrote.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.