As the weather turns cooler and we try to fit in as many outdoor activities as possible given ongoing COVID-19 limitations, there's one thing a simple car ride around your area makes clear: The leaves are starting to change in New Jersey.

Jason Grabosky, a professor in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University, said because of the generally dry weather across the Garden State in September, fall foliage is likely to appear in abundance earlier than usual.

"It's entirely possible that we're talking the first or second week of October for the north, upwards of a week earlier than what our average would be," Grabosky said.

A couple of cool, clear nights, combined with just some occasional rainfall, will bring out brilliant hues of red, according to Grabosky. Townsquare New Jersey Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow's forecast for this week predicts exactly that type of pattern.

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Grabosky said the weather "immediately prior" to when you look outside, looking back about one week, almost entirely determines what colors you will see.

"The reds of many oaks will be bright, the red-orange-yellows of maples will be vibrant, and the yellows of the aspens and birch will be clear," he said, but adding that "if we get a lot of rain, then things are just going to get kind of brownish and yellowish, because those reds won't develop. So it really depends on the weather."

All those reds, yellows and browns have always been present in the leaves, Grabosky said, but the halting of chlorophyll production during this season and its shorter days is what wicks the green tones away.

Two things Grabosky said will not be major factors are the amount of vegetation in a given area, and the smoglike effects of the West Coast wildfires from several weeks ago.

"It's really about the health of the plants and about the weather at the time," he said. "It's not about whether you're in a big community or you're all by yourself."

Leaf colors in New Jersey will first change most definitively in the northwest corner of the state, proceeding from high to low elevation and from north to south.

"If you want to see colors earlier, you're going to move north by northwest, checking out places like the Delaware Water Gap," Grabosky said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Parks and Forestry maintains a Fall Foliage Map, which illustrates a general idea of when the best colors can be seen in your area.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.