Using a slightly modified form of the Spring–Hutter equations, glacial outburst floods are simulated from three classic sites, “Hazard Lake”, Yukon, Canada, Summit Lake, British Columbia, Canada, and Grímsvötn, Iceland, in order to calibrate the hydraulic roughness associated with subglacial conduits. Previous work has suggested that the Manning roughness of the conduits is remarkably high, but the new calibration yields substantially lower values that are representative of those for natural streams and rivers. The discrepancy can be traced to a poor assumption about the effectiveness of heat transfer at the conduit walls. The simulations reveal behaviour that cannot be inferred from simplified theories: (1) During flood onset, water pressure over much of the conduit can exceed the confining pressure of surrounding ice. (2) Local values of fluid potential gradient can differ substantially from the value averaged over the length of the conduit, contradicting an assumption of simple theories. (3) As the flood progresses, the location of flow constrictions that effectively control the flood magnitude can jump rapidly over large distances. (4) Predicted water temperature at the conduit outlet exceeds that suggested by measurements of exit water temperature.