The modelling of extreme hydrological events often suffers from a lack of available data. Physically based models are the best available modelling option in such situations, as they can in principle provide answers about the behaviour of ungauged catchments provided that the geometry and the forcings are known with sufficient accuracy. The need for calibration is therefore limited. In some situations, calibration (seen as adjusting the model parameters so that they fit the calculation as closely to the measurements as possible) is impossible. This paper presents such a situation. The MIKE SHE physically based hydrological model is used to model a flash flood over a medium-sized catchment of the Mediterranean Alps (2820 km2). An examination of a number of modelling alternatives shows that the main factor of uncertainty in the model response is the model structure (what are the dominant processes). The second most important factor is the accuracy with which the catchment geometry is represented in the model. The model results exhibit very little sensitivity to the model parameters, and therefore calibration of these parameters is found to be useless.

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