A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds.
Maria is forecast to intensify to a Category 3 storm with sustained winds topping 125 miles per hour by Thursday, just ahead of its arrival in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
As of 2 a.m. (0600 GMT Monday), the center of the storm was about 90 miles (145 km) north-northeast of Barbados and about 170 miles (270 km) east-southeast of the Leeward island of Dominica, moving to the west-northwest at about 13 mph (20 kph).
Hours before Maria's expected landfall on Dominica - and just over week after the island was brushed by Irma - Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit urged residents to take any belongings that could become risky projectiles indoors.
Puerto Rico, a United States territory which Irma grazed as it headed toward Cuba and Florida, opened shelters and began to dismantle construction cranes that could be vulnerable to Maria's high winds. "All of Puerto Rico will experience hurricane force winds".
Men remove boats from the water ahead of Hurricane Maria on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe early Monday. Now those evacuees and native Puerto Ricans are bracing for another catastrophic hurricane.
This has prompted alerts for the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla that lie to the west. "I can only hope that the same spirit that everybody has - the same God that helped everybody to survive is still looking over them".
Hurricane conditions were expected to spread across Dominica, Guadeloupe and Martinique during the next few hours, with tropical storm conditions already occurring over portions of the Leeward Islands.
The center added that tropical storm watches were possible for the U.S. East Coast later in the day and advised people from North Carolina to New England to monitor Jose's progress.
"Rainfall amounts of 6 to 12 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 25 inches are expected across Puerto Rico", the NHC said.
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Residents in areas prone to flooding and landslides are advised to exercise vigilance.
Maria is the fourth major hurricane of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season.
US Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp warned residents not to underestimate the threat from Maria, or its potential to change track.
St. Thomas and St. John are still recovering from a direct hit by Hurricane Irma, which did extensive damage and caused four deaths on the two islands.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Maria is expected to strengthen into a hurricane as it heads toward the Caribbean and islands that have been devastated by Hurricane Irma.
The center says risky surf and rip currents are expected along the East Coast of the United States.
Maria's sustained maximum winds are now at 130 miles per hour, after rising from 90 miles per hour earlier Monday; they could reach 140 miles per hour within the next two days, the center has said.
A Hurricane Watch is in effect for Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat.
"This featured has recently become better defined in visible and infrared satellite imagery", said Beven. The storm will remain a category 4 storm and perhaps even strengthen to a category 5 over the next few days.