Jennifer Brindley Ubl

Storm Chasers star Sean Casey may be enjoying a little time off, but don’t worry — he’s already planning his next project. And this time, it involves hurricanes.

It’s a sunny day in northern California and not far from the historic town of Sonoma, Sean Casey, the filmmaker who spent the last five years as a star of Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers, is chasing chickens.

“Bok. Bok. Bok,” he mimics, hoping to lure them from the wire pen he built in the corner of his leafy backyard. The fowl scuttle away, but Casey snatches up a fat, caramel-colored beauty named Henrietta and scratches her head like she’s the household cat. It’s hard to imagine a more divergent way of life for the guy whose job it is to drive a 15,000-pound armored Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV) into storms that send most people running for cover. But to Casey, the two lifestyles aren’t so disparate.

“I am a hunter-gatherer by nature, so whether I’m crabbing or mushroom-foraging or fishing, I like to collect things,” Casey says. “I wouldn’t storm-chase like I have for this long without being able to collect something.” 

What he’s collected over the last 13 years are impressive, high-resolution images of monster-sized twisters, many of which are featured in his 40-minute IMAX documentary Tornado Alley that debuted in 2011. He’s no stranger to extreme conditions and has worked on high-adrenaline IMAX movies for nearly 20 years, including Africa: The Serengeti (1994) and Forces of Nature (2004).

But with no wild animals or weather in sight, Storm Chasers canceled in January 2012 and his latest movie thrilling audiences on big screens worldwide, Casey has downshifted a little, moving a year ago from the hustle of Los Angeles to this more bucolic setting with his wife, Jennifer, and two young daughters, Shea (7) and Rose (5). The lifestyle suits Casey, yet a slower pace of life doesn’t necessarily mean a leisurely one. He points out the Swiss chard, artichokes and beds of asparagus he planted last season, as well as the prolific lemon, fig and apple trees dotting his garden. A tent sits pitched near the patio where he camps with his daughters, who, for a while, thought their dad was “out chasing tomatoes.”

Though tornados are nonexistent in Sonoma, it appears one might have touched down in Casey’s carport. Wood planks, cans of paint, tools and an abandoned toilet clutter the space — evidence that the whirlwind Casey is at home. To date, he’s retiled the kitchen, painted the bedrooms, gutted the downstairs bathroom, restored an outdoor barbecue and built a picnic table, pergola and matching light shade out of discarded redwood he nabbed from the neighbor.

Jennifer points to a catalog-worthy iron-and-wood coffee table in the living room and says, “I went away for a few hours and came home to find Sean had built this.”

Despite the facts that Casey is the son of George Casey, an Academy Award–nominated writer, director and producer of more than a dozen IMAX films, including Alaska: Spirit of the Wild and Ring of Fire, and that he spent a good part of his childhood on location with his father, the dual roles of family guy and filmmaker aren’t easy. During tornado season (spring), Casey is gone up to two and a half months at a time, connecting with his family by phone or Skype each night. He’s also keenly aware of the risks of his job and says he is now “older and wiser” and that, as a father, leaving gets a little harder each time.