So far, it has killed a 211-pound Alabama football player, has forced 62,000 Nashville children to stay home from school and has sent the price of corn soaring.

The heat wave that has engulfed much of the United States since July showed no signs of abating yesterday despite heavy rains that pounded much of the East Coast and the Midwest, National Weather Service meteorologists said.

More than 40 cities have matched or broken their record high temperatures for at least one of the last four days, according to Weather Service officials. Fayetteville had the hottest day in North Carolina history on Monday at 110 degrees, which was also the national high that day.

On Saturday, the District of Columbia registered the hottest Aug. 20, at 101. The previous record was 100 in 1874.

In the St. Louis area, where Red Cross officials say more than 50 people have died from heat-related illnesses this summer, local governments and the Red Cross distributed air conditioners and fans in poor neighborhoods.

After three consecutive days of 100-degree heat, the mayor of Birmingham went on television to ask residents who had no air conditioning to come to public buildings to keep cool.

"In the cities, the poor and the elderly are the first victims," a St. Louis Red Cross official said. "They want to keep their windows locked to protect what little material possessions they have. Unfortunately, when you have the kind of heat wave we're having, that's the worst thing they can do."

While it is not likely to match that of the sizzling summer of 1980--the hottest in almost 25 years--this summer's heat wave is likely to be just as punishing in certain regions because of a variety of unusual weather conditions, Weather Service officials said.

The cooling winds that normally cross the United States from the Pacific Ocean veered north this summer, crossing Canada instead. This left most states south and east of the Rockies under a stagnant, high-pressure air mass that interferes with rain or cooling trends, according to climate analyst Don Gilman, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration here.

The same weather patterns caused severe heat in western Europe until the end of July, when several cities recorded the hottest month since the 1930s.

The searing heat and drought came at the worst time for the Plains states: at a key phase of the fertilization process for the corn crop, when pollen from corn tassels was falling on the silks in corn ears.

With temperatures exceeding 100 day after day throughout Iowa and much of Illinois, the fertilization process was interrupted, and the Agriculture Department has slashed its projection for this year's corn crop by about 1 billion bushels.

As a result, corn prices have risen sharply, and analysts predict that this will drive up the price of grains, beef and poultry for consumers.

In the Southeast, where at least 15 persons have died in the heat wave, Weather Service meteorolgists attribute the temperatures to changes in winds that usually blow in from the Atlantic. This year, the winds scooted east because of high air pressure, missing the United States entirely, they said.

Coroner Jon Williams of Lee County, Ala., blamed heat for the death of Auburn University fullback Greg Pratt, who collapsed Saturday after running three 440-yard dashes in 99-degree heat. Pratt died of heatstroke.

Officials in Nashville voted yesterday to close public schools for the second consecutive day because of the heat, and school boards in Ohio, Kentucky and North and South Carolina took similar steps for the first time in their history.

About 1,200 classrooms in Nashville's metropolitan school system are not air-conditioned, and some were as hot as 100 degrees yesterday, according to Eugene Dietz, a school board official. The interior temperature in one school bus was measured at 112, Dietz said. "The director of schools simply decided that we're providing a service for human beings and we ought to treat them accordingly," Dietz said. Monday was the first full day of the public school year in Nashville, where Dietz said more than 62,000 students have registered.

In Atlanta, meteorologist Bill Lerner said his city recorded 21 consecutive days of temperatures above 90 in July. But in 1980, he said, the same temperatures prevailed for 47 days in mid-summer except for a one-day dip to 88. A second above-90 wave continued for 19 days later that summer.

Stagnant air and heat in virtually all of the Southeast have aggravated pollution and health problems, officials said. In Washington, ozone levels have reached the "unhealthy range" 17 days this summer, compared with 12 days in 1982 and seven in 1981, according to Rob Kaufmann, environmental planner for the Metropolitan Council of Governments.

Ozone is created when carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons interact with sunlight.