We're still in the midst of a global pandemic, but average gas prices in the Garden State have managed to climb significantly since the middle of November — and holiday travel, which is extremely limited compared to past years, is not the culprit.

The price for a gallon of regular gasoline is about $2.37 in New Jersey, industry trackers say. That's 10 cents higher than where they were a month ago, and 20 cents higher compared to Nov. 11 of this year.

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Pre-pandemic, in 2019, when holiday travel was typical, gas prices barely moved between mid-November and late December in New Jersey. During the last weeks of 2018, prices at the pump dipped significantly.

Oil prices are at their highest levels since March, when the pandemic first took hold of the nation. According to Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, the comeback is occurring because there's a perceived light at the end of the tunnel that is the COVID-19 public health crisis.

"Markets are being lifted on optimism that perhaps the vaccines will help us get back to normal, and that would boost gasoline demand," DeHaan said. "This whole situation with the coronavirus pandemic is really rewriting norms."

And while prices have rallied here, they're still much lower than they were this time last year — about 20 cents cheaper, even with a nine-cent hike in the state's gas tax this past October.

"We will likely to continue to close that gap between this year and last year as the (COVID-19) situation hopefully improves," DeHaan said.

DeHaan anticipates that average prices will continue to trend upward through the early part of 2021, as long there are no major setbacks related to the health crisis.

According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of regular is currently cheapest in Sussex County ($2.29). Five counties — Cape May, Essex, Mercer, Ocean and Somerset — make up the highest tier of average prices, between $2.39 and $2.45 per gallon.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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