Australia experienced one of its hottest years on record in 2007, and climate experts have warned that the higher temperatures are likely a taste of things to come as weather patterns change.

The country has already kicked off 2008 with a spate of extreme weather -- several cities, including Perth and Melbourne, have suffered summer heatwaves, while bushfires have raged on the east and west coasts.

Meanwhile, heavy rain has caused flooding along the east coast, huge waves have forced the closure of Sydney beaches and Cyclone Helen has brought winds of up to 130 kilometres (80 miles) an hour to the northern city of Darwin.

The Bureau of Meteorology said Thursday that Australia had experienced its sixth warmest year on record last year, with the average annual temperature of 21.8 degrees Celsius some 0.67 degrees above normal.

In the southern states of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, as well as the major agricultural zone, the Murray Darling Basin, the effect was more pronounced.

These areas, which account for the majority of Australia's 21 million people and 75 percent of the country's irrigated farmland, experienced their hottest year since records began in 1910.

"Really, what we've seen in the last year is confirmation of what we've known is going on," David Jones from the bureau's National Climate Centre told national radio.

"Australia is warming, it's warming quickly."

"It really confirms the direction our climate's going and where we're going to end up in the future."

Neil Plummer, acting head of the climate centre in Melbourne, said it was too early to confirm whether man-made global warming was responsible for the rising temperatures and drier conditions.

But he said the Australian climate was altering, and this was in line with higher temperatures experienced around the world which evidence suggests has been caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

"We are already seeing a change of climate," he told AFP, adding that in 16 of the past 18 years Australia has experienced warmer than average temperatures.

"There's a fair weight of evidence now that what we've seen in terms of temperature changes, most of it is due to greenhouse gas emissions."

Plummer said the reduction in rainfall over the southeast of Australia in the past 11 years, the cause of the worst drought in living memory, was "at least partly a consequence of the enhanced greenhouse effect".

"Not only have we had reduced rainfall over significant parts of Australia, that has also come with warmer temperatures which exacerbate the water deficiencies," he said.

Professor David Karoly, one of the authors of a landmark report issued by the International Panel on Climate Change, said 2007's temperatures came as the country experienced the La Nina phenomenon -- generally associated with cooler and wetter conditions.

"For Australia to have above normal temperatures during a La Nina is very unusual," he said.

Karoly said Australia was like other areas around the world, including the southwest of the United States and sub-Saharan Africa, which are projected to experience warmer temperatures as a result of the impact of carbon pollution.

"It's not just happening in Australia, it's happening in similar climates around the world," he told AFP from his office at the University of Melbourne.

John Connor, head of Australia's independent Climate Institute which works to raise public awareness about global warming, said 2007's weather fitted with projections that global warming will lead to wilder conditions.

"The projections are for intense storms, flooding, droughts and bushfires, and we had all of those in 2007," he said.