It is of great challenge to accurately predict flash floods for small to medium catchments (SMC) in mountainous areas, for which parameter calibration strategies are crucial for model performance. This study investigates the influence of calibration parameter selection on flash flood simulations using a rainfall–runoff model, MISDc-2L (Modello Idrologico Semi-Distribuito in continuo–2 layers), at hourly scale for SMC in the Huai River basin of China over the 2010–2015 period. We investigated model performances under different calibration schemes, where different amounts of model parameters were selected for the calibration procedure. The model clearly performed better in the case involving calibration of partial sensitive parameters than that of a full parameter set with respect to the peaks, the hydrographs and the base-flow of flood simulation, especially after including maximum water capacity (W_max) in the calibration. This finding was consistently valid under different model calibration experiments, including single event, “split-sample” test and combined events at different flood magnitude levels. We further found that the model performed better for high magnitude flood events than medium and low ones, but clear improvements can be achieved for low and medium magnitude flood events with careful calibration parameter selection. Our study suggests that calibration parameter selection is important for flash flood event simulations with the MISDc-2L model for SMC in the Huai River basin of China; specifically, the reduction in calibration parameter amount and the inclusion of W_max in calibration remarkably improve flood simulation.
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